HC Deb 28 January 1998 vol 305 cc357-451 3.47 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 8, at end insert— '(1A) Notwithstanding the establishment of the Parliament, or anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Scotland.'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 79, in clause 27, page 13, leave out lines 30 and 31.

Amendment No. 169, in clause 27, page 13, line 30, leave out 'section' and insert 'Act'.

Amendment No. 23, in clause 27, page 13, line 31, at end add

'in relation to reserved matters'.

Amendment No. 198, in clause 27, page 13, line 31, at end add

'which may not be amended or repealed by the Scottish Parliament'. Amendment No. 189, in clause 35, page 16, line 44, leave out

'have effect subject to this Act' and insert

'shall be construed together with this Act, and those sections of the Union with Scotland Act 1706 and the Union with England Act 1707 which relate to Scotland shall together with this Act be known as the "Government of Scotland Act"'. The question, That clause 35 stand part of the Bill.

Amendment No. 3, in clause 116, page 52, line 19, after 'the', insert 'Government of.

Mr. Ancram

I welcome the fact that we are considering such a constitutional measure in a Committee of the whole House. As happens on these occasions, groups of amendments tend to be fairly widespread. It always fascinates me to see which amendments are grouped together and how far through the Bill we go on each group.

Amendment No. 3 relates to almost the very end of the Bill. It seeks to change its title to the "Government of Scotland Bill." The reason is consistency. The constitutional Bill relating to Wales is called the Government of Wales Bill. Indeed, the last time that there was devolution in the United Kingdom—in Northern Ireland—it was under the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

As part of the devolutionary package, there would be some merit in such consistency. The Secretary of State might like to take the suggestion seriously and give it some consideration. There is not a great deal of party political force behind it, but it would make the statute book rather tidier. I know that, as a Scottish lawyer—as I am myself—the Secretary of State likes tidiness.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Sam Galbraith)

An Edinburgh lawyer.

Mr. Ancram

As the Minister says, I was an Edinburgh lawyer. The Secretary of State will remember that I practised most of the time in the Glasgow High Court, sometimes under his beneficent instruction.

Amendments Nos. 2, 169 and 198 all relate to what has become known in popular jargon as the supremacy question. Although they refer to different parts of the Bill, they should be looked at together. Throughout the referendum campaign, and on Second Reading, the Secretary of State claimed that the proposals would strengthen the United Kingdom. The amendments are addressed to that important assertion.

We accept that the democratic case for a Scottish Parliament has been made in the referendum. We must now ensure that it fulfils the claims made for it, and avoids the pitfalls with which it could be surrounded and against which we have warned in recent months.

The Bill is a major constitutional measure. That is why the entire Committee stage is being taken on the Floor of the House. Like all constitutional reforms, it could go one way or the other. It could create turmoil, as Sir Malcolm Rifkind predicted at the end of the referendum. He saw the danger not of the break-up of the United Kingdom, but of a generation of constitutional turmoil. On the other hand, it could be used to create stability. As there will be devolution and a Scottish Parliament, it is our common task on both sides of the House to try to ensure the latter.

To achieve stability and to fulfil the claim that the measure will strengthen the United Kingdom, the reform must be subject to clear constitutional anchors. The first is the sovereignty of Parliament.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

At what stage did the right hon. Gentleman stop believing that devolution would inevitably lead to independence, as the Conservative party claimed during the referendum campaign, and start believing that it could go one way or the other, as he has said this afternoon? Can he put his finger on a precise date?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman will have difficulty in finding any occasion on which I said that the process would be inevitable. I said—and I repeat—that the proposals contain flaws that could lead to that break-up which I wish to avoid. Since the referendum, I have made it clear that our responsibility is to try to cure those flaws, and to create stability and balance where there is currently instability and imbalance.

As I was saying, to establish stability constitutional measures have to meet four constitutional anchors. The first is the sovereignty of Parliament, which is of great importance in this country because we do not have a written constitution. The sovereignty of this House and its ability to decide on the constitutional position are essential parts of the stability of the constitution.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

As a distinguished Scots Queen's Counsel, how does the right hon. Gentleman square what he has just said with what Lord President Cooper said in the case of MacCormick v. the Lord Advocate? He said: The principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law. We are dealing with the Scotland Bill.

Mr. Ancram

At the moment, all I have said is that I believe that one of the anchors is the sovereignty of Parliament. I will deal with that point, because we must look at the distinction between legal and political sovereignty, which is recognised and is of importance.

I would merely say that, in the case mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman—MacCormick v. the Lord Advocate—that remark was not in the main judgment, but was part of the obiter dicta. If I remember my constitutional law correctly, there are many other remarks which can be drawn upon from that case—not only from Lord Cooper, but from other judges—which, while interesting, have no legal implication. I will come on to that.

The second anchor is the integrity of the United Kingdom, even if constitutional changes are made within it. I hope that that will be common ground across the Dispatch Boxes, and that we are looking to maintain the integrity of the UK in what is being done. The third anchor is the importance of the constitutional monarchy, and the fourth is the balance of the interests of an individual with the powers of the state. Those are the four anchors against which all constitutional measures should be tested. In this instance, there are two specific anchors to which I wish to return.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin)

Unlike the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), I am not so much interested in when the sinner repented as in that he has repented. I welcome it, and we should not be churlish about welcoming the transformation in the views of the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) on the subject.

In that context, I make a sincere plea to the right hon. Gentleman. One of the best contributions that he could make to making a success of the project is to drop the dog-in-the-manger churlishness which characterised his performance and those of some of his hon. Friends on the previous occasion we debated the Bill. I honestly cannot see how that is even in the interests of his own party. Devolution is now the settled will of the people, and the Bill will pass through this House. Let us make a success of it, and approach it constructively and with good will. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman at this early stage to do so in today's debate.

Mr. Ancram

I will always take lessons in constructiveness and good will from the hon. Gentleman, given his past record. I hear what he has to say; I merely say this. I have said that I believe that devolution contains great dangers to the United Kingdom—I would be less than honest if I did not continue to say that. I believe also that this Bill has substantial flaws, which I believe enhance that danger. I wish to see those flaws cured.

I also take the view that it is dangerous ever to suggest—as the hon. Gentleman appears to be doing—that the Bill is somehow perfect and incapable of amendment, and that anyone criticising it is somehow criticising the future existence of a Scottish Parliament. I have said that I accept that there will be a Scottish Parliament, but I would be doing less than my job and my duty if I failed to scrutinise the Bill carefully, and, when I saw gaps in it, to say so. If that is churlishness or being a dog in the manger, I am afraid that that is the job not only of the Opposition, but of Back Benchers from all parties; that is the duty and responsibility of the House of Commons.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look seriously at the flaws which exist, and will desist from the suggestion that it is somehow heresy to criticise in any form any of the proposals that are made. His case might have been stronger had the referendum been held after the publication of the Bill, so that the people of Scotland could have said, "Yes, we agree with every single word; every dot, tittle and comma"—or whatever the phrase is. That was not the case, and we have a responsibility to look closely at the Bill.

For a start, we know that devolving power inevitably creates a momentum of what has been called unbundling, and creates the appearance of a slippery slope towards separation and the break-up of the UK. At best, it creates the prospect of turmoil. This is compounded by the dangerous flaws in the Bill, which will create imbalance, instability and the threat of Anglo-Scottish confrontation if we do not deal with them now. To counteract that, there is a necessity to ensure the application of two of the anchors I mentioned—the integrity of the United Kingdom and the sovereignty of Parliament.

As it stands, the underlying dynamic of the legislation has the effect of undermining the integrity of the United Kingdom. It is consistent with the view that devolution is not so much an event as a process; that this is a start, not an end; and that there is all for nationalists to play for in trying to achieve their goal of independence.

This is a test of the Secretary of State's undertaking about whether the Bill will strengthen the United Kingdom. I believe that, as it stands, it cannot deliver that. To create credibility and stability, we need to establish that the concept of the Bill is not federalism, which by definition divides powers, but devolution, which delegates them, and that it is also not quasi-federalism; if it were, the clause would not be a part of it.

The Bill is drafted to suggest that we are to have devolution, with delegated powers, not federalism, with divided powers. The clause helps to establish that, but it begs several questions. We know that it is replicated from section 4(4) of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, and presumably it is there to fulfil the same function of reassurance.

We must accept that, legally, the clause adds nothing to existing sovereignty, but the absence of such a reassurance in the Northern Ireland context, at least, could have been regarded as significant. I suspect that the same could have been said in this context, and that is why the clause is there; but it is not satisfactory as it stands. It does not state, for instance, whether, if the United Kingdom Parliament were to make laws for Scotland, they would take precedence and prevent further amendment or repeal by Scottish Parliament legislation, or whether they could be the beginning of a shuttlecock game between the two Parliaments.

On Second Reading, I asked whether private Members' legislation could be included, and I think that the Minister said no. I hope that he has reconsidered, because a power for this Parliament to legislate in Scotland must inevitably include the power for a private Member's Bill to be part of such legislation.

As it stands, the clause could be a cockpit for a struggle between the two legislatures. The power to legislate could be within the vires of this Parliament, because it is sovereign, while the power to repeal legislation, because it was not a reserved matter, would be open to the Scottish Parliament, and legislation could be batted back and forth, with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council unable to make a decision, because both Parliaments would effectively be acting within their vires. If I am wrong about that, I shall be pleased to be corrected; but that is my concern about the clause.

That is why we want to amend the clause through amendments Nos. 169 and 198. We want to ensure that, if an Act of Parliament is passed relating to Scottish matters, that Act will be incapable of repeal or amendment by the Scottish Parliament. It is a power that would, I believe, be very rarely used, but it is relevant in making the clause credible.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The right hon. Gentleman says that the power would be very rarely used. Can he give an example of circumstances in which it could be used?

Mr. Ancram

Only a hypothetical example: the House might decide to pass a private Member's Bill that included Scotland and affected a matter that was not reserved to the House—there is nothing in the clause to prevent it from doing so—and the danger is that the Scottish Parliament could decide that, as the matter was not reserved, it wanted to repeal or amend it; then, in my reading of the clause, this Parliament would have the power to establish that law if it wanted to.

Mr. Galloway

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram


I said that it would happen rarely. In constitutional experience, the way in which responsible parliaments work means that such occasions would very rarely occur. The experience of Northern Ireland in the Stormont period underlines that. Once again, I make the point that, where there is such a danger, we should pre-empt it by legislating in the way that makes it least likely to happen.

Mr. Salmond

The right hon. Gentleman is not pre-empting conflict but trying to consolidate the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament. Does he think that it would be constructive—let us put it that way—for a Back-Bench Member of this Parliament or the Government to legislate on devolved matters? If not, why is he trying to enshrine that right in the legislation?

Mr. Ancram

For the reason that I have already given, and one that the hon. Gentleman obviously has not yet taken on board. If one accepts—I know that he does not, but the Secretary of State does—that this Parliament remains sovereign, it is important that no legislation allows for that sovereignty to be constantly undermined, as I have said could hypothetically be the case under clause 27.

I have tabled the amendment because I believe that, if clause 27 is to last, we need to make it as effective as it can be. I believe that we need a further clause, and that is what I want to deal with next.

Mr. Galloway

I invited the right hon. Gentleman, and he seemed to respond, to approach these matters constructively. What could be more destructive or certain to lead to turmoil—to borrow his words—than such an occasion as he postulates? A Member of this House could exploit the amendment to create conflict on constitutional grounds between the two Parliaments. Is that the constructive law-making to which we can look forward from the right hon. Gentleman for the rest of the day?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. I am saying that we must try to prevent conflict arising. I do not want to see conflict, but where a clause, by its definition and nature, allows conflicts to arise—as clause 1 does—it is right to amend it to prevent confrontation and to avoid making the shuttlecock legislation that I fear.

Clause 1 was put in the Bill not by me but by the Secretary of State and the Government. All I am saying is that, if this is to be the clause that underlines the sovereignty of Parliament, it should be drafted in such a way as to achieve that.

Our responsibility is to pre-empt confrontation. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) asks me to hope that all will be perfect in a perfect world, and that conflict will never arise. That is not the right way to deal with constitutional legislation.

Mr. Wallace

I am trying to follow the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Is he saying that, when this Parliament passed the Church of Scotland Act 1921, which gave the Church of Scotland, its general assembly and its courts sovereignty over all matters within the spiritual domain of the Church, Westminster retained the sovereign right to remove those powers at a later stage? If that is his position, is he not provoking a constitutional difficulty with the Church of Scotland?

Mr. Ancram

I am always keen to avoid confrontation with any Church. I understand that this is a matter of debate in another place. I shall be interested in the outcome of that debate. The hon. and learned Gentleman's argument is being made against the Government's proposal in another place. I shall read carefully the outcome of that dispute.

We propose a broader amendment that avoids this rather intricate argument. I am looking for a clearer statement of the supremacy of this Parliament of the United Kingdom, which fulfils in terms the requirements of the two anchors I mentioned, and which has respectable precedents in section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The amendment can hold no fears for those who proclaim, as does the Secretary of State and as did the Prime Minister in a felicitous phrase that I need not repeat to the House, that sovereignty and consequently the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament resides in this House and this Parliament.

The purpose of my amendment, as was the purpose of section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, is to make the position clear in language that is comprehensive, unambiguous and reassuring. I readily concede that it can have no added legal effect to the legal sovereignty that already adheres, but neither can clause 27. There is, however—this is the point that was raised with me earlier—the legal concept of sovereignty, which is understood, and the political concept. In a dynamic situation, such as that which the Bill creates, the legal concept is not of itself sufficient. Had it been so, it would not have been possible for the Scottish convention in its claim of rights to assert that sovereignty rested with the Scottish people. That was an assertion of political sovereignty which, left unchallenged, would seriously undermine the United Kingdom's integrity.

I do not question the reality stated some years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) that one could not hold a component part of the UK within the Union against the wishes of the majority of the people of that part, but that is the ultimate definition of political sovereignty, not what we are dealing with here.

At issue here is the ability of a Scottish Parliament to use its legislative and devolved constitutional muscle to challenge the Westminster Parliament's political sovereignty and to create the slippery slope so beloved of nationalists, but apparently eschewed by the Secretary of State and certainly rejected by us as inimical to the integrity of the United Kingdom.

The amendment, by definition, is declamatory, but it proclaims the political sovereignty and the supremacy of this Parliament. It contradicts the slippery slope and it redirects the Bill's dynamic in a way which is consistent with the claims made by the Secretary of State that the Scottish Parliament will strengthen the United Kingdom. It will give reassurance to those in Scotland who voted for the Parliament but would recoil from any further move towards separation. It will anger those nationalists who proclaim Westminster sovereign to be a fiction, but it does lay down the anchor. It is a beacon of intent that the phrase "devolution within the United Kingdom" means what it says and that any future moves to use this legislation or the Parliament that it creates to undermine the Union would be contrary to the spirit and intention of the Bill and the House.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)

As I am not a lawyer and am new to this kind of thing, will the right hon. Gentleman explain what exactly he means? As I understand it, clause 27, as amended, will say that the Westminster Parliament could make Acts relating to matters that are under the control of the Scottish Parliament and that the Scottish Parliament could not reverse that. If that is so, could the Westminster Parliament introduce a completely new education or health system in Scotland against the wishes of the Scottish Parliament? That is what I understand to be the effect of the amendment.

Mr. Ancram

No, that is the effect of the clause, unamended. Clause 27 states: This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland. It does not say "only over reserved matters"; it says to make laws for Scotland. That includes matters which are not reserved. It must, by definition.

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Ancram

If it does not include matters which are not reserved, where does it say so in the Bill? I have looked closely. The whole point about the clause, as was the case in the Government of Ireland Act from which it was drawn, is that it reasserts the supremacy of this House over all areas of legislation.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) makes the point that I was making about clause 27. My concern was that that could have a knock-on effect between the two Parliaments, something which amendment No. 198 seeks to avoid by adding the words which may not be amended or repealed by the Scottish Parliament. That makes it clear that this Parliament's sovereignty exists and is established by clause 27.

I left clause 27 for the very reason that I find it an unsatisfactory vehicle. It is made better by my amendment, but if that is not successful I hope that I can persuade the Secretary of State that amendment No. 2 is a more secure way of achieving his and my purpose.

Amendment No. 2 is, in many ways, a test of the Secretary of State's good faith. Nothing in it is inconsistent with any claim that he has made in promoting devolution and the Bill. It encapsulates the undertakings that he gave so fervently and persistently during the referendum about the Bill's effects on the United Kingdom, and for him to accept the amendment would be a sign of good faith to the Scottish people to whom he gave those assurances. If he turns it down—

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar)

Which amendment?

4.15 pm
Mr. Ancram

Amendment No. 2—my main amendment. If the right hon. Gentleman turns it down, his words will turn to dust in his mouth, and many who put their trust in him, as he asked them to do, will feel that that trust has been betrayed.

I know from previous debates that we shall be challenged yet again as to why we argue this case. We shall be told that it is somehow contrary to the spirit of devolution—indeed, the hon. Member for Kelvin has already made that point. We shall be warned in menacing tones that we are committing heresy against the settled will of the Scottish people. We shall not be intimidated by such rhetoric, nor will we accept such accusations.

Mr. Dewar

I am a little bit puzzled. I do not want words to turn to dust in my mouth, as that sounds like a rather uncomfortable experience, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can explain this to me.

As I understand it, the words he wishes to insert in the Bill are largely based on section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920; but the words we are using are based on the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. 1 do not want to make this a competition between the two Acts, but presumably the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's words is that the 1973 Act was a betrayal of people in Ireland, because it was so much weaker than 1920 Act. Does he not think it a more likely explanation that in 1973 it was seen that plain, straightforward and rather more modern language was preferable?

Mr. Ancram

If that had been the case, section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act would have been repealed, as were many other parts of that Act, but it was not. Section 75, from which my amendment is drawn, could have been repealed at that stage, but it was not, and it is still extant. Both provisions are in place in relation to Northern Ireland, and all I am suggesting in my amendment is that both provisions should also be available in the Scotland Bill.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

I have just returned from a visit to Northern Ireland. I spoke to groups in Belfast and Derry, and none of them want to see a return of the Stormont Parliament, so why are right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House trying to write into the new Scotland Bill a situation like that of the Stormont Parliament in Northern Ireland? If the Irish people do not want it, the Scottish people certainly do not want it imposed on them, either.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman makes my case for me. The power by which the Stormont Parliament was prorogued and direct rule established at the time of the civil rights marches was exercised under the supremacy of the Westminster Parliament, as stated and asserted in section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act. I am trying to introduce a similar provision into the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman feels that protection is needed against that sort of thing, the amendment offers precisely that protection.

The reason why we have tabled the amendment and why we press it now is that we believe not only in the United Kingdom, but—more important—in the central and vital role that Scotland can play within the United Kingdom. I am prepared to confess that I am unashamedly a unionist. I believe that the Union is an enormous benefit to the people within these islands, and a great force for good beyond them.

I believe, too, that Scotland has benefited from the Union and has contributed disproportionately, but magnificently, to its history. The partnership continues to hold out great promise and prospects to Scotland, even with a devolved Parliament; and to undermine those prospects would be a disservice to the people of Scotland and their interests.

I want the Union to prevail, with Scotland continuing to play her historic role within it. The amendment proclaims that Union; it asserts the supremacy of the Parliament of that Union; and it establishes devolution within that Union. I call on all those who believe in and value the United Kingdom, and who, above all, believe in and value the role of a devolved Scotland within it, to support this historic amendment.

Mr. Dalyell

I fear that beacons of intent do not always make good and stable law. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) made a rather "have your cake and eat it" speech in favour of his "have your cake and eat it" amendments. Because of the guillotine time problem, I shall concentrate on clause 27(7), which states: This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland. Subsection (7) may conceivably be true in an arcane legal sense, but in the political reality of 1998 it is palpably misleading and about as true as it would be to say that the Queen can veto any legislation.

Let us pretend no longer that when the Bill becomes law, Westminster will remain sovereign; it will not. Westminster is—it is better to be very candid about this—effectively stripped of sovereignty. There is no glass ceiling and we should not imagine that the Bill does or can put a tight cap on Holyrood's powers.

I thought that the right hon. Member for Devizes was whistling in the wind when he talked about the integrity of the United Kingdom; the integrity of the United Kingdom may not be possible, given this Bill. How can the House of Commons bestow legislative responsibility on another institution without diminishing its own powers?

If the House of Commons is ceding to another elected authority the right to rule in education, housing, health and other gut issues of politics, how can our hitherto monopoly of sovereignty remain intact and undiminished? Frankly, of course, it cannot. As soon as Members of the Scottish Parliament are elected in 1999, they will behave as a separate constitutional entity when dealing with domestic affairs.

Furthermore, heaven help the Members of the Scottish Parliament if they are not perceived to do things differently. In the eyes of those who wanted Holyrood, that is what they are for. If they do not sort out tuition fees for students quickly, electors will ask, "Why go to all the trouble, and why have all the hoo-hah and expense of setting up Holyrood?"

There is no glass ceiling. I know one reason why—it is that any glass ceiling, or explicit limit on Holyrood's freedom to evolve into independence, would create enormous party problems for, for example, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). Substituting flimsy cellophane for glass was part of the price of his support at the referendum.

Another deeper reason why there can be no glass ceiling relates to political imperatives. What happens when the expectations of Holyrood are unfulfilled? What happens about lone parents? I bet every candidate who goes before a constituency selection conference for the Labour party or any other party, including the Conservative party, will be asked his or her views on lone parents.

Scotland will be strewn with commitments that lone parent benefit will be restored to the full. The leadership of Holyrood Members of Parliament, fresh from the hustings, will then come to the Treasury in Great George street, London, and say, "We need more money to restore lone parent benefit." Doubtless they will say the same about a host of other perceived ills.

Are we sure that English Government Members of Parliament will acquiesce in giving more money per capita to the Scots to sort out lone parent benefit and many matters that are, purportedly, outwith Holyrood's powers—for that matter, tuition fees are within Holyrood's powers—than to their own constituents, faced with diminishing lone parent benefit and tuition fees? The notion that all will be sweetness and light defies human nature and all political experience.

Mr. Wallace

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and, knowing the care with which he approaches such matters, I hesitate to contradict him, but will he not accept that lone parent benefit is not a devolved subject? It is a reserved subject; there is therefore no question of anyone going to the Treasury to ask for more money to pay more lone parent benefit in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman may make the point that expectations may be raised that cannot be delivered, but candidates should be on notice of which powers are held by the Parliament for which they are standing.

Mr. Dalyell

Of course; the hon. and learned Gentleman is right—I said that it was outwith the powers, but whether it will be perceived as being outwith the powers is a totally different matter. There will be enormous pressure, will there not, to get reserved powers—

Mr. Gorrie

indicated dissent.

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. This is a difference of judgment, but it is a judgment about human nature. The expectations that have been aroused in Scotland on welfare and other subjects are enormous, and I do not think that it is within human or political nature—although, doubtless in good faith, Ministers have proposed it—to respect the division of powers on gut political issues when there is the whole panoply of a Scottish Parliament.

The difficulty lies in the assumption that there will be an eternally amiable relationship. I wish I thought that that could happen, but it is very difficult. As was said in a previous debate on the Government of Wales Bill—the fascinating debate on Welsh devolution, at which I have been a constant attender—a Czech and Slovak problem will gradually develop. It will be relatively amiable to start with, but, once there is strife on delicate welfare reform subjects, one will get into a variety of difficulties.

What is the Secretary of State's attitude to the Scottish National party and others—I do not mean this pejoratively—using Holyrood as a forum in which to promote independence? Is it not true that, as he is reported as telling the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan on 24 July 1997, it would be "futile" to oppose the will of the Scottish people? He is quoted as saying: The boundary between reserved and devolved powers may be adjusted as the need arises. Therefore, we should not pretend that this is a lasting settlement; it is really a process. Power devolved is not power retained. The idea that Westminster is the ultimate authority will be little more than a formality.

I conclude by asking a question, as I hope to do, keeping any interventions short. Under subsection (7) of clause 27, will the status of the United Kingdom Parliament in relation to the Scottish Parliament be rather like that of the Queen as titular head of state? Does not what the subsection says about the powers of the United Kingdom Parliament sound like the Queen's ability to veto parliamentary legislation, which we know, in reality, to be impossible?

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) painted a gloomy picture. I am under no illusions that there will not, from time to time, be tensions between the Scottish Parliament and the Westminster Parliament. Such tensions are present in any system. Canadians have told me that tensions often exist between their federal Government and provincial Governments.

We are kidding ourselves if we suppose that we are embarking on something novel in the experience of countries worldwide. In fact, we are probably in the minority in having such a centralised system; it is commonplace to have divisions of responsibilities between different layers of government. Although, undoubtedly, there will be tensions, we will be obliged to find a means of resolving what will then be a political reality. We hope that we are grown-up adults and can resolve those tensions maturely, without always resorting to haranguing.

Unfortunately, the political system that we have grown used to over the years, breeds in us a view that any political dispute or debate can be resolved only by conflict and confrontation. However, the Bill is a product of the constitutional convention, where we defied the critics who said that it would be impossible for the parties that joined the constitutional convention, working by consensus, to produce a set of proposals. The fact that we achieved it gives hope that there can be a new style of politics. We will have to learn new tricks and new ways of resolving conflicts, because it will not always be sweetness and light.

I do not accept that, because there will be tensions and friction, that will inevitably lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom—far from it. I have always strongly believed that the swiftest road to breaking up the United Kingdom would have been to deny the people of Scotland the legitimate aspirations that they have expressed time and again for more say over our domestic agenda.

4.30 pm

The lead amendment shows the Conservative party defending the traditional position of Westminster sovereignty. I do not accept the argument of parliamentary sovereignty as advanced by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram). I do not believe that that ever was the constitutional position in Scotland.

When I was studying constitutional law at Downing college, Cambridge, in the early 1970s, we would go through interminable legal problems about trying to entrench powers so that Acts could be amended only with a two-thirds majority, and discuss whether a subsequent Westminster Parliament could overturn that and amend the Act with a simple majority. It was fascinating and enjoyable, but did not advance us very far.

The proposition of Westminster's sovereignty was very much an English one. The workings of Professor Dicey.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. and learned Gentleman raises authorities from the past. I raise an authority from the present and refer him to the debate on the White Paper, when the Secretary of State for Scotland said: We accept that sovereignty within a devolved system lies with the United Kingdom Parliament."—[Official Report, 31 July 1997; Vol. 299, c. 457.] Does the hon. and learned Gentleman disclaim that authority, which is a Scottish authority?

Mr. Wallace

The Secretary of State will no doubt reply to the debate and answer for himself. I am advancing my view and that of my party. I do not accept the sovereignty of Westminster, and I am on the record—the right hon. Gentleman could have cited me—as saying on several occasions that I do not accept it. That is an English concept.

I am prepared to concede that many people think that Westminster is sovereign, but we must deal with that reality—we cannot wish it away. It is obvious from comments such as those of the right hon. Gentleman that the notion of Westminster's sovereignty is so ingrained that it is a political reality, which we must face. I do not believe that, as he claims, it has any legal substance, and I think that its political substance will diminish.

The right hon. Gentleman need not rely solely on the quote that I offered him earlier from Lord President Cooper in MacCormick v. Lord Advocate. If he goes through the court cases, he will find many older authorities, particularly in relation to cases involving the Church and the protection given to the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian form of government under the treaty and Acts of Union, which gave rise to legal cases in the 19th century.

In the case, Minister of Prestonkirk v. Earl of Wemyss in 1808, the Lord President stated: The people of Scotland, at the period of the Union, were most careful to preserve unalterably all the rights of their presbyterian church as by law established". It is interesting that clause 35 almost restates the treaty of Union and the various Acts of Union which, as the Secretary of State well knows, entrench the rights of the Presbyterian form of Church government in Scotland.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

I do not want to get involved in a pedantic review of 18th or 19th-century law. The Act of Union entrenched certain rights in Scotland. That was its virtue. One of the consequences that has been discussed in the Committee is that if the Bill is enacted, the Scottish Parliament will be able to undo some of that. The point is that parliamentary sovereignty was accepted.

Mr. Wallace

No, I do not believe that for one moment. The concept of parliamentary sovereignty was alien to the history of Scotland. Hon. Members must accept that what was established in 1707 and augmented in 1801 when Ireland came into the Union was a Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was not a Parliament of England, of Scotland or of Ireland. It was a Parliament of the United Kingdom. There is no earthly reason why the constitutional theories of a Parliament of England should take precedence over the constitutional theories of any other part of what was an equal Union.

I do not accept that the English concept became a concept of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. As I said earlier, the Church of Scotland Act 1921 makes it clear that this Parliament recognised that there are limitations on its sovereignty, and the Church of Scotland, under its declaratory articles, which were approved by Parliament, recognised that there were areas in which Westminster was no longer sovereign, and that there would be no question of Westminster intervening again.

The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) referred to the concept of popular sovereignty in the Claim of Right, which so many hon. Members signed in 1989, when we acknowledged the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs. It has an historic resonance, from the declaration of Arbroath, the 1689 Claim of Right, through to today. It is a practical form of considering how sovereignty should operate.

I think that it was Lord Howe who said that it is not like virginity—it is not something that one does or does not have; it is quite capable of being pooled. [Laughter.] Not pulled—pooled.

The fact that rules and regulations emanate from Brussels causes much unhappiness, particularly to Conservative Members, but if the people want and accept that some of their sovereignty should be exercised by the European Union, the Westminster Parliament or an Edinburgh Parliament, it is a perfectly legitimate exercise of popular sovereignty. It is a useful concept in an age when there are different layers of government.

If popular sovereignty was such that the people of Scotland wanted independence, we would have to accept that, but I do not believe that they want it. In general election after general election, when they have been given the opportunity to vote for candidates standing for independence, only 20 to 25 per cent. have ever done so. There is no popular demand for independence. As we saw on 11 September, the people of Scotland exercised their popular sovereignty by voting for the proposals that are substantially contained in the Bill, and that is what will be delivered to them.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is confusing the concept of sovereignty with the concept of powers, when he mentions the passing of powers to the European Union. Is he saying that the Scottish Churches would not be subject to rulings that might be made by the European Court of Justice? If Parliament were to pass powers to that court, the court's rulings would be binding on everything in the United Kingdom and would affect matters concerning the Scottish Churches. The sovereignty of the Scottish Churches would have been passed, by a sovereign act of this Parliament, to the European Court of Justice. To that extent, this Parliament can legislate on any matter. It is not bound by its predecessor. That is the meaning of the sovereignty of Parliament.

Mr. Wallace

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's proposition. I was making the point that, under the Church of Scotland Act 1921, sovereignty over matters that were specifically laid out in the Act was passed to the Church of Scotland and to the courts of the Church of Scotland. Therefore, this Parliament did not have the sovereignty to pass to Brussels under the European Communities Act 1972. As the hon. Gentleman knows, one cannot pass what one does not have; there is a strong argument that what we are discussing does not affect the areas over which the Westminster Parliament did not have sovereignty.

Mr. Grieve

I have heard of the acquis communautaire, but this is the acquis Wallace. Is it not a doctrine that, once laws have gone, they can never be taken back? That is completely contrary to the principles on which this Parliament operates, and it will be completely contrary to the principles on which the Parliament in Edinburgh will operate.

Mr. Wallace

The hon. Gentleman is highlighting the fundamental difference between us. I do not accept that that is the principle on which this Parliament operates. He may think that it is.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Member is a nationalist.

Mr. Wallace

I am not. It is not a particularly nationalist proposition. As I clearly said, the people can have their sovereignty exercised by the Westminster Parliament over a range of subjects, including social security, defence, monetary policy and taxation. The people chose, as they showed in their votes on 11 September, to allow sovereignty to be exercised by the Westminster Parliament.

Mr. Salmond

Lady Thatcher said on a number of occasions that, if the people of Scotland voted for independence, independence was what they should have, exercising their right to sovereignty. Does that and the Conservative party's logic make Lady Thatcher a supporter of independence?

Mr. Wallace

No, it simply highlights the obsessive way in which the Conservative party is wedded to a concept that we do not accept. That does not make us nationalists; there is simply a gulf. The amendment has given us a nice opportunity for academic consideration, but ultimately it is wrong. If accepted, it would incorporate into law an entirely alien concept.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

What is the hon. and learned Gentleman's view of the important point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)— that the Bill appears to operate as a one-way ratchet? The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the Scottish people did not vote for complete independence; do not the Government's proposals play into the hands of the nationalists? If there were a nationalist majority in the Scottish Parliament, it would inevitably lead to complete independence, whatever he wishes.

Mr. Wallace

I do not believe that for one moment. On the contrary, the Bill satisfies the Scottish people's aspirations because it gives them what they want. Even without devolution, Scottish National party members standing as candidates for Westminster elections could get 50 per cent. or more of the vote, which could be regarded as the road to independence. The fact that that has never happened confirms my belief that it is not what the Scottish people want; nor will their appetite be whetted for it.

As the Bill will satisfy the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Scottish people, it is more likely to secure the integrity of the United Kingdom, which the right hon. Member for Devizes said was one of his objectives. That would be better done under a federalist system. The right hon. Member for Devizes once espoused federalism and suggested that a federal framework of government be adopted. Those words appeared in a pamphlet published by Mr. Michael Ancram of 6 Ainslie place, Edinburgh 3. It is not dated, but membership of the Thistle group at that time was 10 shillings per annum. It is a well-written pamphlet analysing what is wrong with the Westminster system of government—problems that have been exacerbated in the past 30 years.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

As one of the few post-decimalisation Members, I was tempted to ask what a shilling was.

Am I correct to assume that the hon. and learned Gentleman's interpretation of clause 27(7) is the same as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)—that the Bill would give this Parliament the power to make laws for Scotland on all issues, including reserved powers?

Mr. Wallace

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing me neatly on to the point that I was about to deal with anyway. Incidentally, a shilling was worth 5p, unless one was not quite the full shilling.

Amendment No. 23, which was tabled by me, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and others, seeks to clarify precisely what clause 27(7) means. I interpret it in a similar way to the right hon. Member for Devizes—that it could allow the Westminster Parliament to make laws in respect of non-reserved matters. It would not necessarily be exercised in a way deliberately designed to cause confrontation, but could arise in the context of a private Member's Bill, perhaps one introduced in another place, with a provision that appeared to apply to the whole of the United Kingdom but which trespassed on a non-reserved power. That would be unfortunate and could lead to confusion, which is why we have made it clear that it should happen only in regard to reserved powers.

The amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Devizes would consolidate the friction. If Westminster had the power to legislate on a devolved subject and the Scottish Parliament could not repeal or amend that legislation, it would lead to damaging confrontation and friction, which the right hon. Gentleman vows he wants to avoid. The Secretary of State may give us an assurance that that is not the intention of clause 27(7), but clarification is necessary, and amendment No. 23 is a useful way of achieving that.

Although the Bill provides for references to the judicial committee of the Privy Council if it is thought that the Scottish Parliament has acted ultra vires, I am not so clear about what would happen if Westminster passed legislation that it could be argued was related to a non-reserved matter. Someone in Scotland could challenge legislation on the basis that it did not apply in Scotland. I do not know whether provision could be made for judicial determination if an action was, as it were, ultra vires in the opposite direction. I hope that that situation can be clarified, because, as it stands, it could lead to unnecessary conflict and confrontation.

4.45 pm
Mr. Galloway

I am not lawyer, an historian or, for that matter, a member of the Church of Scotland, so I shall not pursue hon. Members down ecclesiastical, historical or legal avenues. I speak as a mere jobbing politician: a humble agitator.

Mr. Fox


Mr. Galloway

Well, an agitator then.

From my perspective, both the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) are correct. The legal position is undoubtedly that the Westminster Parliament is sovereign, but the political reality is that the people are sovereign. That seems to me so obvious that perhaps only a non-lawyer can see it. The point was no doubt conceded in the hon. and learned Member's reference to Lord Cooper's judgment. Much more contemporary and more important is the fact that it was conceded by the stance taken by Lady Thatcher and the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major).

Notwithstanding the Westminster Parliament's legal sovereignty, if the popular will in any constituent national part of the United Kingdom were to leave the Union, it would have to be allowed to do so. That is what the Claim of Right meant, and it is why, with the exception of my dear hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), we all signed it, why none of us resile from it now, and why we are not contradicting ourselves in this debate.

We were clearly addressing the political right of the Scottish people ultimately to choose whether to remain in the Union as it was, to leave it altogether, or to amend our participation in it. That is why we had a Scottish Constitutional Convention, and why I was proud to be a member of it: indeed, I was one of the first people to call for it. In an article in the now sadly lamented Radical Scotland magazine more than 15 years ago, I called for a convention of the Scottish people to find a political path towards the exercise of popular sovereignty.

I am disappointed in the right hon. Member for Devizes. Perhaps unwisely, he mentioned my record. I may have some fun with his, as the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland did. There is a lack of credibility in someone who was absolutely seized and persuaded of the need to reform the United Kingdom's structures—he was a devolutionist, even a federalist—who then metamorphosed into an absolute defender of the status quo, and who now comes among us saying that he wants to make the legislation work. He approaches his work in a churlish, dog-in-the-manger way, which makes the launch of the legislation far less harmonious that it could have been. It damages the political position of his party, which would do better to turn the page on its previous opposition to devolved government. The Conservatives should pick up the ball and run with it, as other Conservative parties in other parts of the world have done very successfully.

Catalonia has a Conservative Government. There is no contradiction between being a believer in the free-enterprise system—the market economy—and supporting devolved government. It is about time that Conservative Members' prehistoric attitudes changed.

The right hon. Member for Devizes told us that he was concerned about these matters because he wished to preserve the integrity of the United Kingdom. He said that he was a Unionist. But the Conservative party has been the main recruiting sergeant for the break-up of the United Kingdom, as we have spent 18 years—the best part of the past two decades—pointing out to its members. Every time they rode roughshod over the clear will of the Scottish people—every time they appeared oblivious to the fact that only a small minority of Scottish electors supported their programme—and rammed Thatcherite policies down our throats, they added to the column of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond).

The right hon. Member for Devizes supported the poll tax. Perhaps he still does; I do not know whether that is a part of his record that he now wishes to rewrite. In any event, the introduction of the poll tax, which was visited on the Scottish people—who did not vote for it—a full year before it was introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom, was the single biggest act that risked ruining the unity of these islands. It drove more people into the column of the Scottish National party than any other political act in history. Those are the facts, and it is about time that Opposition Members showed some humility.

The Bill is intended to preserve a measure of unity in these islands—a measure of unity which was gravely imperilled by nearly 20 years of Thatcherite government.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

Another key element damaged the credibility of the current constitutional arrangements. Some Conservative Members happily voted for the poll tax in Scotland, and then, when it was introduced and affected their constituents, campaigned vociferously to get it abolished and removed. The fact that they failed to scrutinise the legislation when it did not apply to their constituents, and recognised the damage that it was doing only when it did apply to them, demonstrates the need for the Scottish Parliament.

The Chairman

Order. Wide though the grouping of the amendments may be, hon. Members should come back within their compass.

Mr. Galloway

My point is that the carelessness of Opposition Members when their party was in government for all that time led to the imperilling of the stability of the Union. This is an honest attempt to stabilise the position, and to create a new settlement that can lead to a more stable and harmonious existence for the people of these islands.

Mr. Ancram

May I ask the hon. Gentleman two short questions? First, he referred to my record on devolution before 1970. Will he remind the Committee of the Labour party's position on devolution in the years before 1970? Secondly, in the light of what he is saying, will he tell us whether he agrees with clause 27(7)?

Mr. Galloway

Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour party, was the first campaigner for Scottish government. For the vast majority of the time during which the party has existed—nearly a century—we have supported home rule in this country.

By its defence of the Union—its nothing less, no change, no surrender attitude—the Conservative party has consistently imperilled, in the last century and in this, the prospects of unity in these islands. If there had been a speedy and constructive passage of home rule legislation for Ireland when it was only home rule that the Irish wanted, we might not have to re-create a council of the isles as a means of trying to end the blood and thunder within these islands. We and the Irish people might have had a more harmonious century if we had recognised the need, which was expressed by elected politicians in Ireland at that time, for a new settlement for home rule rather than breaking up the island. A new settlement is what we are trying to achieve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow—I mean that sincerely: there is occasionally a "but", as such a phrase is usually the precursor to a criticism, but there is not in this case—is right to say that there can be no perspex or glass ceilings. There can be no manacles, shackles or ties imposed by this place, whatever is said in the White Paper that the right hon. Member for Devizes is holding. If I am right—and I think that I have a measure of agreement in the Committee—in the end it is popular sovereignty which counts, and no attempt to place a cap on the Holyrood Parliament is worth a hill of beans.

The United Kingdom can survive only if its people want it to survive: it can persist only if there is consent. There is nothing that we can do legally to force people to want to stay in the United Kingdom, but we can strike attitudes that will help to make it more likely that they will want to remain. That is why I appealed for an end to the dog-in-the-manger approach by Conservatives.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

The hon. Gentleman speaks about devolution bringing harmony to the people of these islands. Surely it will create uncertainty among some people, depending on where they live. The devolution Bills will mean that we will no longer be equal citizens.

Mr. Galloway

The hon. Gentleman seems oblivious to the fact that the status quo had ceased to be an option. More and more people were deciding that they wanted to opt out of the Union. The political party of which the hon. Gentleman is a member supported no change, no surrender Unionism, and was completely annihilated in the May general election. The party came back for more in the September referendum when it again hoisted its banner of no change, no surrender Unionism. Again, Conservatives were routed from the field.

There is some nobility in continually stepping up to the mark, being smacked on the nose and falling down, but there must come a point when even Conservative Members realise that the game is up, that there will be home rule for Scotland and that we might as well try to make it the best possible kind of home rule. We might as well launch the ship with a bottle of champagne and good will rather than be dragged screaming and kicking into the operation.

Mr. Dalyell

I thank my hon. Friend, with whom I am united in the unpopular cause of opposing military action against Iraq, for giving way. Does he agree that Westminster will effectively be stripped of sovereignty?

Mr. Galloway

There is no doubt that, in legal terms, it will not be—not in the sense that, as Enoch Powell said, power devolved is power retained. Effectively, it will be, because we are giving a whole tranche of Scottish life to the Scottish Parliament to administer and legislate for. That is what the Bill says that we will do. Moreover, the message sent by the referendum victory and by the Labour Government's general election victory in May was that we should do that. So why cannot we do it with good grace?

Dr. Fox

With the greatest respect, that is not what the Bill says. Section 27(7) states: This section does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland. Regardless of what the hon. Gentleman wants the Bill to say, that is not what it says.

5 pm

Mr. Galloway

We are again dealing with the dichotomy that I tried to identify in the first few moments of my speech between the legal position and the real-life position. Any hon. Member who wanted to legislate in the House on non-reserved Scottish matters after the Scottish Parliament was up, running and effectively dealing with Scottish life would be a wrecker, a saboteur and a recruiting sergeant for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. Anyone who tried to throw such a spanner in the works could not possibly have at heart the Union of our islands or the unity of the people of our islands. He or she would be guilty of political provocation.

As I am not a lawyer, I am not all that concerned with the small print of the issue. I should like hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to launch this ship with good will and fairness.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman started his speech by saying that he believed in the sovereignty of this Parliament. It seems that there is disagreement in the Committee over whether this Parliament is sovereign and will remain so. The purpose of amendment No. 2 is to bolster the Government's position by stating explicitly that hon. Members, in passing the Bill, do not believe that we are detracting from the sovereignty of the House. Just as the hon. Gentleman does not want this Parliament to provoke a crisis with the Scottish Parliament, it is equally incumbent on the Scottish Parliament not to provoke a crisis with the rest of the United Kingdom by asserting sovereignty over matters which it claims for itself but which this Parliament does not feel that it has devolved to it. Accepting our amendment would explicitly state that belief, so that everyone understands the ground rules at the outset.

Mr. Galloway

Surely the amendment would do the precise opposite. We are dealing with the ability of this Parliament and even of Back Benchers, in private Members' Bills—to table legislation on non-reserved matters and to describe that legislation as sovereign. That would be a provocation to the Scottish Parliament.

Why are we going to all the trouble of creating a Scottish Parliament and of devolving certain matters to it if we are leaving open the possibility of hon. Members mischievously wrecking or sabotaging the settlement by tabling legislation in the House on matters that have properly been devolved to the Scottish Parliament?

Either I have expressed myself poorly or the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) has misheard me. I did not begin my speech by saying that I accept the House's sovereignty. I do not believe that the House is sovereign over even the English people, never mind the Scottish people. I believe in popular sovereignty. All sovereignty rests not with us and not with this building—with these bricks, mortar and timber—as admirable it is, and as much as I love it—I do love it, and I hope to stay here—[Laughter.] I am serious about that. This is a very precious place, and many great freedoms have been fought for and won here. I love this place very much, and I hope to stay here until they carry me out in a box. However, I do not think that it is sovereign. The people who sent us here are sovereign. They are the ones who ultimately make the decision.

There is no contradiction. The House's sovereignty over England and, arguably, over the new Scottish Parliament has undoubtedly been written down in law. In real terms, however, if the people decide that they want to change the arrangements in our islands, they have the sovereign right to do so. Long ago, even the right hon. Member for Huntingdon accepted that. In real life, we should not be hung up on such a legalistic argument. Opposition Members should seize the opportunity, which is fading fast, to accept their defeat with good grace and take a constructive stance on these matters, rather than be seen by the Scots, whom they will soon be asking for votes, to be dragged kicking and screaming down every last inch of this tortuous path.

Mr. Salmond

Following the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway), I wonder whether a role is emerging for Scottish National party, Liberal Democrat and Labour Members to protect the Scottish Conservative party from the English Conservative party and the undoubted effects of its rhetoric on the already diminished prospects of colleagues north of the border.

The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) moved the lead amendment in such a mild way that it sounds almost reasonable—until one looks at the language in it. Amendment No. 2 says: Notwithstanding the establishment of the Parliament, or anything contained in this Act, the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Scotland. It does not even refer to property in Scotland. It refers to all things in Scotland, bright and beautiful and otherwise. I am sure that a gentleman called Kipling would have been an enthusiastic backer of such an amendment.

One could phrase a clause on parliamentary sovereignty differently. I remember that, when I was a small child, I used to believe that if I shut my eyes nobody could see me. I am starting to think that the Conservative party has assumed that mentality. It believes that, if it asserts something strongly and powerfully enough, the world will tilt on its axis and reality will change to suit its prejudices.

The right hon. Member for Devizes said that he wanted the language of the amendment to contradict the slippery slope. Either the slope is slippery or it is not. Contradicting it will not alter its angle or slipperiness. There is more to politics and life than asserting things in a rather offensive way and believing that, the more one does so, the stronger that makes one's position. Often, such behaviour makes one's position rather weaker. It is certainly making the position of the right hon. Gentleman's beleaguered Scottish colleagues very weak. They must sigh every time a Conservative Member gets to his or her feet to make a speech in such a manner, and tries to look upon Scotland as property, a thing, a possession of the unblemished sovereignty of Parliament.

I want particularly to speak to amendment Nos. 79 and 23, which were tabled by the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats. The amendments could offer a middle way out of the difficulty. [Interruption.] I am always a reasonable man at heart, as my friends well know.

I join the hon. Member for Kelvin in his argument about popular sovereignty. That is my anchor as I regard constitutional questions. I believe in the popular mandate and popular sovereignty of the Scottish people.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

They have never given it.

Mr. Salmond

That remains to be determined. It will be decided by the people at subsequent elections. It is their choice. Believing in the popular sovereignty of the people does not mean that one believes in the inevitability of one's victory. It just means that one believes that people have the right to choose and decide. Believing it does not make one a nationalist; it just makes one a democrat.

I should like to protect the Secretary of State from his hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for a second. I looked up the reference that the hon. Member for Linlithgow quoted with such a flourish when he talked about the futility of glass ceilings. In response to a question that I asked about the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine their own constitutional future, the Secretary of State rightly said:

If I did try to build such barriers, they would be futile and without effect. At the end of the day, in practical politics, what matters is what people want. If the hon. Gentleman is able to carry the people of Scotland, no doubt he will be able to advance his cause."—[Official Report, 24 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 1049.] The Secretary of State was not signing up to the Scottish National party in that statement. In fact, he has never been a member of the SNP, unlike some in his ministerial team. I am referring to the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson)—I would not want the accusation to be left drifting in the wind. The Secretary of State was making a democratic point that has been accepted by every responsible politician for many years, including the past two leaders of the Conservative party. The right of the people of Scotland to choose their constitutional future is a basic point of democracy. They can choose no change—which has been rejected—devolution, federalism or independence as a state in the European Union.

Mr. Grieve

Is not the problem with the notion of popular sovereignty the fact that it means the rule of the person or group of people who are on top in a given place at a given time? Even Scotland is a legal concept, just as England is. The fact that devolution is going through is a recognition of the legal entity of Scotland and the majority vote in the devolution referendum. We want to add to the Bill a restatement of the legal position. Once we start on the road of popular sovereignty, there is no stopping. Orkney and Shetland may one day assert their popular sovereignty to remove themselves from Scotland. That argument can carry on ad infinitum.

Mr. Salmond

I do not claim that the right of national self-determination is an easy concept to define, but the United Nations was confident enough about it to put it in its founding charter. If the United Nations coped with the concept, the Committee—even the Conservatives—should manage to grapple with it.

It is no secret that parties in the Committee and in Scotland have argued for national self-determination. A quotation from 1992 put the issue neatly:

The central issue at stake is that of sovereignty. The unwritten British constitution, founded on the notion of absolute sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament gives Scotland no constitutional right of democratic control of its own affairs, let alone provides the right of national self-determination or fundamental individual rights for its citizens. This concept of sovereignty has always been unacceptable to the Scottish constitutional tradition of limited government or popular sovereignty. Today, in the modern world, it is no longer acceptable in practice to us. That was the democracy declaration, signed—uniquely in recent Scottish politics—by the Scottish National party, by the hon. Member for Central Fife (Mr. McLeish) on behalf of the Labour party and by the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. That definition has been publicly embraced by three of the political parties in Scotland in front of 25,000 people. There were quite a few witnesses. It was not done in a secret cabal. We embraced a concept that we believed represented the way forward. We did so despite our different constitutional aims, because we agreed that the people had the right to decide. If we keep that as our constitutional anchor, we shall not go too far wrong.

The Conservatives' position is strange. They are arguing, in a flourish of rhetoric, that the Bill needs to be strengthened with more constitutional guarantees to maintain the essential integrity of the United Kingdom, but they also point, rightly, to clause 27(7), saying that the issue is already in the Bill. If it is already dealt with in the Bill, what is the point of the Conservative amendments, other than to give the right hon. Member for Devizes a chance to make a speech? They are probably right. Clause 27(7) unwisely gives the Westminster Parliament the right to legislate on all matters in Scotland, unaffected by the devolution legislation.

There is some dubiety and dispute about that. On Second Reading, the right hon. Member for Devizes asked the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office whether a private Member's Bill on a devolved matter for Scotland would be binding on Scotland. The Minister said no. The Clerks in the House of Commons say yes, under the terms of clause 27(7). The Secretary of State should tell us whether the answer is yes or no—as we hope and as the Minister, like many of us, thought.

The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) asked the same Minister whether the Scottish Parliament legislation could be cancelled by the Westminster Parliament. He replied: Within the areas of devolved responsibility, laws passed by the Scottish Parliament are not open to cancellation."—[Official Report, 13 January 1998; Vol. 304, c. 155.] 15.15 pm

The Minister, whose impeccable devolution credentials are well known to all in the House, was apparently under the impression on Second Reading that the Bill did not provide for the Westminster rules okay override, which says that any matter can still be determined by the Westminster Parliament. I do not accuse him of misleading the House. It was reasonable for him to believe that. Before we looked at the Bill in detail, most of us believed that the power of the United Kingdom Parliament to make laws for Scotland on reserved matters was not affected by the Bill, but devolved matters would be the preserve of Edinburgh. Amendment No. 23 would make that change, offering the Secretary of State the clarification necessary to bring the Bill into line with what the Minister said two weeks ago.

There is general agreement in the House about popular self-determination—the right of the Scottish people to decide. The Scottish people will determine the constitutional direction of Scotland at the ballot box. No sensible person would gainsay that process. The Conservatives are clumsily suggesting putting in manacles, shackles and safeguards in language carried with a flourish. That will cause them great difficulty in Scotland. However, we should not stick with the Bill as it stands. Clause 27(7) gives an opening for the wrecking behaviour that the hon. Member for Kelvin mentioned. We need clarification, so that we can agree that the provision refers to reserved powers.

It is no secret that I believe in independence for Scotland. I have not kept that from the Scottish people. I also believe that it will happen through the ballot box when the Scottish people so determine. At the referendum, the people of Scotland exercised a sovereign decision to vote for the Bill. The Secretary of State and I said that, if the Bill passes, Westminster will not again be allowed to impose a poll tax on the Scottish people. Scottish parliamentarians will decide that form of local government taxation. The manifest injustice of the poll tax will never again be visited on the people of Scotland. Clause 27(7) opens the door to that. It is not just the "Westminster rules, okay" clause; it is the poll tax clause. It is not okay with the people of Scotland and it is not faithful to the arguments that the Secretary of State, the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland and I, along with many others, deployed in the referendum campaign.

We asked the Scottish people to exercise their sovereignty on powers that would remain at Westminster and powers that could go to Scotland in the knowledge that, at any time in the future, that settlement could be changed. It could be changed back if the Scottish people did not want the Parliament and decided to go back into a unitary state. We could change to federalism or to independence on the vote of the Scottish people. Given what the people voted for on 11 September, it is not sensible for the Bill to open the door to legislation being passed unilaterally in this Parliament, on devolved matters that the Scottish people decided should go to the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Dalyell

Through the hon. Gentleman, may I ask my Front-Bench colleagues whether the reincarnation of Lady Thatcher, using clause 27(7), could impose a poll tax? That is a factual question to which I do not know the answer.

Mr. Salmond

I am happy to act as a messenger for the hon. Gentleman, and I relay that question to the Secretary of State.

The clause does open the door, and I think it unnecessary. The settlement that the people voted for on 11 September would be satisfied by amendment No. 23, which would make it specific that the legislation that we expect to be carried by Westminster would be on reserved matters and not on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament. That would bring the Bill into line with the rhetoric of the Minister of State two weeks ago.

Mr. McAllion

I was delighted by the previous intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). I had not realised that Lady Thatcher required reincarnation—I had not heard the good news. If it is true, I say, "Rejoice, rejoice."

I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), but I do agree that the biggest problem facing the Tory party in Scotland is the Tory party in Westminster. As I listened to the speeches from Tory Members, it occurred to me that perhaps Bill Walker and Phil Gallie were not all that bad. They were transformed in the mind's eye into significant political figures; not because absence makes the heart grow fonder, but because of the pathetic performance of the Anglo-Tory establishment here in Westminster.

To this day, the Tories have not got it into their heads that the situation has changed dramatically in Scotland following the referendum on 11 September. It is time that the Tory party changed to reflect the differences in Scotland. Unless it does so, it will not recover in any sense in Scotland, but will remain a party of England—a party dominated by England. In complete contradiction to the Tory party claim, it will be the party not of the Union, but of only one part of the Union, which has nothing to say to Scotland, Wales or, increasingly, Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) said that perhaps only a non-lawyer could see that the legal claim to sovereignty does not matter because, in practical terms, what matters in the real world is popular sovereignty. He was being hard on lawyers in saying that. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is a distinguished lawyer and, in a recent exchange with me, he said that the people were sovereign. So even lawyers understand that the people are sovereign, which makes it all the more bizarre that they require to take part in this debate.

The reality is that the people are sovereign—there is nothing that this House, this Parliament or any hon. Member can do to change that. The people will decide whether the Union survives. The people will decide whether Scotland becomes separate and independent. No politician can stop the people making that decision.

Dr. Fox

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McAllion

I will give way to—[Interruption.] I was going to say that I would give way to the more intelligent hon. Gentleman, but there is no choice. I shall give way to the Front-Bench Member.

Dr. Fox

The hon. Gentleman probably made the wrong choice on this occasion. We have made it clear on many occasions that, should Scotland wish to leave the Union, it would be able to do so. However, is it not reasonable that, while any part of the UK remains within the Union, this Parliament should remain the ultimate legislative power?

Mr. McAllion

No, that is not reasonable. It is a very old-fashioned way of looking at the concept of political sovereignty and, as I develop my speech, I shall refer to the modern way of looking at sovereignty. I am very much a moderniser in my own party. I, for one, am against clinging to the past and to the ancien regime that goes back to Edward I, the "Hammer of the Scots". I want to move forward to the 21st century and not go back to 1707, as so many hon. Members who have taken part in the debate want.

Mr. Grieve

The notion of popular sovereignty that the hon. Gentleman puts forward will take us not to the 21st century but back to the dark ages. If I disagreed with him on the principle of sovereignty, I could just walk across the Floor and bonk him on the head, but I shall resist the temptation. Either we have a legal structure that is accepted—which is why this devolution Bill is going through—and the will of the Scottish electorate, as expressed in the referendum, is accepted, or there is no legal structure at all and the hon. Gentleman is justifying his position on something with no legal structure.

The Chairman

Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman—not while I am in the Chair.

Mr. McAllion

I am tempted to say to the hon. Gentleman, "Come on, then," but I shall resist that temptation. He talked about going back to the dark ages. If a time traveller from 1707 came here, he would immediately recognise all the essentials of this Chamber and this Parliament. Nothing much has changed. We have the same Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the Chair and the same red line—[Interruption.] Well, not the same person in the Chair, but the same post. We have Her Majesty's Government, Her Majesty's official Opposition, the same manner of addressing one another as hon. Members and so on. The same powers are exercised not, as then, through the monarch, but through the Prime Minister. In essence, this constitution and this Parliament have never changed. We have never moved from the 18th century—never mind moving to the 21st century.

Mr. Dalyell

What about the women?

Mr. McAllion

That is a welcome change. However, 50 per cent. of the Scottish Parliament will be made up of women—something this Parliament could never achieve. I am being diverted from my remarks.

In his excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Kelvin tried to persuade the Tories to come to terms with the reality of Scottish devolution. He said that there was no inherent contradiction between belief in a free-enterprise economy and a belief in home rule for one's own country. I am sure that there is no contradiction, but I hope that it does not become a requirement.

Mr. Galloway

Would my hon. Friend—I mean that sincerely—allow me? The point I was making, which does not seem to have penetrated to Opposition Members, is that the Government of Catalonia is a right-wing, Conservative capitalist Government. The Government of Bavaria is a right-wing, Conservative, capitalist, Catholic Government. None of those right-wing parties has any problem in administering, governing and legislating in one part of a bigger state. Why should it be so difficult for Conservative Members to swallow that? I honestly cannot understand that.

Mr. McAllion

I agree. Modern European history shows that the parties most clearly identified with nationalism were traditionally the right-wing parties. Nationalism was a right-wing cause for so long. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it something of a mission in his life to win back nationalism for the left—well, the centre left. I should not want to be accused of attacking my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister by calling him left wing. Everywhere else, parties of the right embrace nationalism and embrace their country. Only in Scotland does the party of the right refuse to embrace its own country, and instead continues to want to see its country governed from outwith its borders.

Mr. Jenkin

We do not demur from the concept of sovereignty resting with the people but, as in any popular democracy, the sovereignty of the people is vested in institutions. In Germany or Spain, sovereignty is vested in the German or Spanish constitution. The people of the United States vest their sovereignty in the constitution of the United States and swear allegiance to the constitution. We swear allegiance to the Crown and to Parliament. Our constitution is the sovereign Parliament—we do not have a constitution codified in any single document. It is written in many Acts of Parliament and is stored in conventions and practices but, ultimately, the sovereignty of the British people is vested in this Parliament. That is what it is to be part of the United Kingdom. If—

The Chairman

Order. I did not call the hon. Gentleman to make a speech. If he is making an intervention, he must keep it short.

Mr. Jenkin

If any part of the United Kingdom wants to withdraw that sovereignty from this Parliament, it is in effect saying that it is on the way to ceasing to be part of United Kingdom.

Mr. McAllion

I disagree fundamentally. The hon. Gentleman described the constitution as it was before, but there is no reason why it should be frozen in time, and sovereignty should always reside with the Crown in Parliament. There is no reason why the constitution should have only one Parliament or why sovereignty cannot be shared. Indeed, Westminster was stripped of its sovereignty a long time ago, when the Single European Act was pushed through by a Conservative Administration. The Crown in Parliament does not rule in all the areas now governed by the European Parliament, and this Parliament had better come to terms with that reality and start learning how to share sovereignty.

5.30 pm
Mr. Hawkins

The hon. Gentleman represents the part of Dundee from which my own Scots family comes. He talks of the sovereignty of the people, his hopes for a future sovereign Scottish Parliament, and the Prime Minister's mission to create it. What did his constituents think when the Prime Minister spoke of the powers of the new Scottish Parliament being equivalent to those of a parish council?

Mr. McAllion

The Prime Minister was completely misrepresented. My constituents had every opportunity to make up their minds, as that alleged reference was made long before the general election, and they came out in record numbers to vote Labour. The people of Dundee have already spoken. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman disguises his Dundee accent very well.

Mr. Shepherd

As the hon. Gentleman will know, I also subscribe to the sovereignty of "We, the people". The essence of that doctrine is democracy. We, as equal citizens, are the elected representatives from among our fellow citizens, and we come together in an institutional arrangement. That is the essence that concerns many of us in this debate. The residue of the arrangements in the Bill may mean that we are no longer equal citizens. That is why some of us argue this case.

Mr. McAllion

I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, that the legislation is an answer to Scotland's problems within the United Kingdom, but not to England's. Of course, it has implications for the rest of the United Kingdom. I have long argued that the English people have neglected their place within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They have always assumed that this was an English Parliament, and that the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish came along to join it.

That was never the case. This has always been a British Parliament. The equality for which the hon. Gentleman rightly argues can be found only when the English people wake up to the demand for English home rule. That will be the final piece in the jigsaw that will lead to stability in the constitutional arrangements in this island.

I accept that the establishment of a Scottish Parliament will dynamically affect the rest of the United Kingdom and that further changes will have to follow, but I see that as a good step that will lead to a better form of government not only for Scotland but for everyone in the United Kingdom, because the English people will rightly say that they want further change, and they will have my support when they come to that conclusion, as I believe the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) did some time ago.

The concept of Westminster sovereignty goes much wider and much deeper than merely retaining the United Kingdom as a single entity. It is only since I have taken part in this debate that it has been pointed out that sovereignty rests not with Parliament but with the Queen in Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow said that the Queen's veto is only theoretical, and that there are no circumstances in which she would ever veto legislation that had been passed by both Houses of Parliament, but we do not know what the circumstances may be in the future.

Incidentally, I hope that the House of Lords will not be there for much longer. I have never understood how democracy is strengthened by laws that are passed by a democratically elected Parliament being subject to the assent of an institution that is unelected and hereditary. That does not strengthen democracy; it weakens it. We cannot go into the 21st century arguing for that form of sovereignty; it belongs to history and is no longer exercised anywhere else in the world. It is time that people in this island woke up to that reality.

The powers exercised through Parliament are not always exercised by Parliament. Every hon. Member knows that, although the powers of royal patronage may not be used by the Queen, they are certainly used by the Prime Minister of the day in an extremely undemocratic way. That is not a criticism of the present Prime Minister.

I was here when one Prime Minister used the payroll vote—the ability to appoint more than 100 paid positions relating to government—to gain control for the Government party of the day in a completely undemocratic way. I was here when the country went to war without the House being allowed to vote on it. The Prime Minister of the day sent the troops into action, and all that we could do was debate a motion on whether we should adjourn the House. I was also here when the Prime Minister of the day appointed thousands upon thousands of people to paid positions on quangos, which gave him enormous influence.

That undemocratic use of patronage is all wrapped up in the idea of Westminster sovereignty—the sovereignty of the Queen in Parliament. That is not the kind of sovereignty that we can ask anyone in the United Kingdom to accept in the future. We want a new kind of democracy that will bring us into line with democracies in the rest of the world, instead of being stuck in the 18th century, with power centralised not only geographically in London but in the office of the Prime Minister.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills, who has made many great speeches, has long recognised that Parliament is continually undermined by the Executive, and that the constitutional theory that the Executive is held to account by the legislature is reversed in practice: the Executive has long controlled the legislature, and I cannot remember its being beaten roundly for getting policies wrong. The whipping system and powers of patronage are used to ensure that Governments can force through bad legislation. It is time for us to wake up to that reality.

The impact of Europe will continue. Let us not kid ourselves. It did not finish with the Single European Act. Economic and monetary union will come along and there will be a single currency. Further powers will be stripped from Parliament, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and from the Prime Minister as First Lord of the Treasury. Changes will happen in any case, and my argument is that we should go with the flow and try to apply the new principle of subsidiarity.

Sovereignty will be shared at the levels of Europe, of the UK, and of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The principle of subsidiarity should determine how that is done. When decisions can be taken close to the people, they should be. That is why we are introducing devolution for Scotland.

Mr. Laurence Robertson

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my assertion that the devolution Bills that are being pushed through are part of the plan to create a federal Europe of regions? Does he think that the United Kingdom should go that way?

Mr. McAllion

I voted against joining the European Union a long time ago—I would describe myself now as pro-European but anti-Maastricht—so I am not part of any conspiracy to set up a huge federal state of the regions. I want devolution, or home rule, for its own sake. I was worrying about home rule for Scotland long before Europe ever crossed my mind.

I think that home rule would be a better form of government for Scotland, and the same goes for England. That would stop people like me interfering in English affairs, which would be a very good thing. The legislation is not part of a conspiracy; it is a genuine attempt to find a better form of government that is equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century and the new global economy.

I am probably more of a moderniser on this issue than any of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and I include some of the ultra-modernisers on the Front Bench, who would be appalled at how modernising I am: they would think that I needed to be pulled back and made more old Labour by arguing for the sovereignty of Westminster. I shall not do it, because I see that we have to change and adapt to the modern conditions of the modern world. I do not believe that we are doing it fast enough.

Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

The intervention of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) prompts the thought that many Conservative Members of Parliament view the United Kingdom as a country when in fact it is a multinational state. The relationships within it are inevitably being changed by the Bill. That is welcome to me. Those changes will continue, particularly with the creation of a Northern Ireland assembly, in addition to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly.

Mr. McAllion

Absolutely. My hon. Friend is right. No one can stand up in the House and say that this is the end of constitutional change in this country. That cannot happen.

In any case, I have never understood those who cling to stability and argue that the proposal for a Scottish Parliament is unstable and will lead to further change. So what? Why are people frightened of change? What is wrong with the people in this House? Are we so clinging to our power and privileges that we are determined that not one bit will slip through the doors to some other institution? Are we so undemocratic that we think that the democratic debate, involving 60 million people in these islands, can be resolved only by a handful of people who meet here every week? Of course it cannot. We must look to the future. We must welcome instability as something that is good and will turn Britain into a much more modern and successful economy.

Finally, I shall deal with the amendment, to which I have not yet spoken. I share the attitude of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan to the appalling language in which amendment No. 2 is phrased. If the Tories were looking for a new name, as they are in Scotland, they could call themselves the British supremacists on the basis of the amendment. It says: the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished over all persons, matters and things in Scotland. That is an appalling amendment to put to the people who live in Scotland. I cannot understand it. Where were the Tories on 11 September? The position in the amendment was basically the position of the Tory party in the no, no campaign for the referendum. The Tories were hammered. They were wiped out by the Scottish people. That position was rejected on 11 September. To come back to Parliament several months later and put the same position again seems suicidal on the part of the official Opposition.

Mr. Galloway

It was a knock-out.

Mr. McAllion

My hon. Friend mentions that a knock-out blow was landed on the Tories. They are almost like a boxer who has been knocked out and three minutes later staggers to his feet saying, "You never laid a glove on me," and wants to carry on fighting. The Tories seem unaware that their position has absolutely failed in Scotland and that it is useless to put it forward any further.

I am not happy with clause 27(7). I should be a liar if I said that I were. I recognise that it is a minimalist statement of Westminster sovereignty and that it is there to satisfy the dinosaurs in this place who want to cling to Westminster sovereignty, especially those on the official Opposition Benches. I recognise the subsection as a genuine attempt on the part of my right hon. and hon. Friends to try to keep together, at least within the Labour party, very different points of view on sovereignty. It is a noble attempt to do so, but it is not convincing. We all know that the powers referred to in subsection (7) can never be implemented in practice.

If any Westminster Parliament sought to override laws passed by a Scottish Parliament, it would simply bring closer the day when Scotland decided to break away from the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not say that as an idle threat. I was a councillor before I became a Member of Parliament. We all know that elected members at whatever level of government go native and become great supporters of the institution to which they belong. Perhaps I am not a good example of that in this place, but most people go that way. Members elected to a Scottish Parliament will be determined to fight for the rights and privileges of a Scottish Parliament. If Westminster ever dared to override legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament for Scotland on issues devolved to it, that would literally be the end of the United Kingdom.

As far as I can see, clause 27(7) is redundant and could never be put into practice. It is a fig leaf put in to cover the fiction that the Westminster Parliament retains sovereignty when the reality is that that sovereignty has long ago gone to Europe and is now going back to Scotland. People will have to learn to share it in the future.

Mr. Godman

May I say to my hon. Friend, with perhaps absurd naivety, that I cannot imagine for a moment that this Parliament will seek to impose an Act of Parliament on the Scots in the teeth of the opposition of Members of the Scottish Parliament, and against the opposition of civil society in Scotland.

Mr. McAllion

Absolutely. It is lunacy to suggest that clause 27(7) could be given effect. If anyone from any party in this Chamber believes that this Parliament could override a Scottish Parliament on devolved legislation, he is not living in the real world, and he should come into the real world.

My hon. Friends who have taken part in the debate rightly drew the distinction between the theoretical clinging on to Westminster sovereignty and the practical reality that sovereignty rests with the people and that the people will decide ultimately. That is an important fact which people have to understand.

Any form of government can survive only with the consent of the people. That is the only guarantee that matters. We cannot insert into the Bill provisions that prevent the people from having their way. At the end of the day, the Scottish people, the English people and the Welsh people will have their way. I believe that the Labour party is much closer to what they are thinking than the dinosaurs on the Opposition Benches.

5.45 pm
Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) made an interesting speech, and one which was amusing and witty in parts. He would not expect me to agree with most of it, and I do not. I was amused by his reference to what a time traveller from 1707 would make of Parliament today, saying that there had been no changes. Although I would never wish to create any difficulties between the hon. Gentleman and his Front-Bench colleagues or his Prime Minister, he may have temporarily forgotten that he is living in cool Britannia and month nine of year zero of the new Labour revolution. He may have been slightly off message.

I was also somewhat amused by some of the other exchanges in the debate. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) sought to give the Conservative party tips on how to pick up support and win votes. He also told us that we were living in prehistoric times. I am sure that he will forgive me if 1 point out that, given his stance on various issues over the years, he probably knows a little more about the time of the dinosaurs than some of us on the Tory Benches.

Meanwhile, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) told us that he wished to advance a middle way on issues of Scottish devolution—an interesting description of the Scottish National party position. He described the wording of amendment No. 2 as "offensive". I am sure that he will have found offensive—indeed, he said so at the time—the words used by the Prime Minister before the general election, when he said that, under his proposals, "Sovereignty will remain with me as an English Member of Parliament."

Mr. Salmond

Yes, I did. What is perhaps more interesting to the hon. Gentleman is that the Conservative party in Scotland attacked those words as arrogant.

Mr. Collins

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The point that I am trying to advance is that, if that wording is offensive, it is the message that the Prime Minister put before the people. It is the mandate that he sought throughout the United Kingdom. It is the basis on which he secured election to this Parliament and became the head of the Government of the United Kingdom. It is the basis, furthermore, of the propositions put before the Scottish people in the referendum in September.

Therefore, the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) merely seeks to encapsulate clearly in the Bill words equivalent to the position that the Prime Minister advanced, for which he sought the democratic endorsement of the Scottish people and the people of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State will no doubt make his own remarks about the amendment in due course, but he intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes. From the tone of his intervention, I gathered that he intended to argue not that he disagreed with the implications of the amendment, but that he disliked its wording and thought that it was somewhat otiose, and possibly even repetitive of other provisions in the Bill.

If that is his argument—he is nodding now—I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that, if the worst thing about the amendment is that it is repetitious, there are many repetitious provisions in statute in both England and Scotland; whereas the merit of the amendment is that it clearly establishes the exact basis of this act of devolution. The amendment makes it clear that the Bill is not intended to undermine the overriding sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

The amendment is important also because it provides an element of stability. Interventions from the Government Benches have shown a willingness to use the Bill to provide, in the oft-used phrase, a slithery slope; a constant process for accelerating devolution—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Slippery".] It can be slippery and slithery, as I am sure the Secretary of State would concede.

Conservative Members are advancing the proposition that, whatever the final settlement—the word "settlement" is often used; a settlement implies a degree of stability and predictability—if there is to be stability and predictability on the basis that was put before the Scottish people and the electorate of the United Kingdom, it should be reflected in clear and unambiguous language in the Bill in the terms of the amendment, making it clear that this Parliament remains sovereign in Scotland as in all other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

The amendment is almost an exact repetition of section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which the Government are about to barter away in exchange for some nebulous and undefined amendment of articles 2 and 3 in the Irish constitution.

In support of what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, the Prime Minister confirmed to me two weeks ago that he intended to put into this legislation for Scotland something similar to section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act, which is in accordance with the amendment. The Government are prepared to abandon sovereignty in Northern Ireland by removing section 75, but to strengthen it in Scotland by putting exactly the same proposition into the Bill.

Mr. Collins

I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. In the light of the Prime Minister's assurance, I assume that the Secretary of State will be explaining why he is now going to accept the amendment. That seems to be the force of what the Prime Minister has told the hon. Gentleman. I am most grateful for that helpful intervention.

Mr. Godman


Mr. Collins

This one may be a little less helpful.

Mr. Godman

I disagree utterly with what has just been said: in no way can the excision of articles 2 and 3 of the constitution of Ireland be regarded as a nebulous measure.

Mr. Collins

I suspect that we had better return to the provisions relating to the government of Scotland rather than the government of Ireland—or Northern Ireland, I should say, which is not part of the Republic of Ireland, and I hope never will be.

Clause 27(7) has been subject to much debate. I am particularly concerned about its implications for what my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) described as the third anchor which he believed was of critical importance in maintaining Scotland's place in the United Kingdom, and that is the place of the monarchy.

Some Labour Members talked earlier of the role of the Crown in Parliament. I hope that, if necessary, the Secretary of State will put me right, but some of the provisions here give rise to concern. Clause 27(2) makes it clear: Proposed Acts of the Scottish Parliament shall be known as Bills; and a Bill shall become an Act … when it has … received Royal Assent. Subsection (3) makes it clear that a Bill receives Royal Assent under the provisions of the Scottish seal. That is fine.

But schedule 5 (1) makes it clear what matters are generally reserved. It becomes clear that the constitution, including the Crown, are reserved matters. Paragraph 5 says: Paragraph 1 does not reserve … the use of the Scottish Seal. It is clear that the Scottish Parliament will have control in advising Her Majesty on the use of the Scottish seal, and therefore, no doubt, Ministers in the first Scottish Administration will advise Her Majesty on the process of giving Royal Assent to Acts of the Scottish Parliament.

If that is the case, Her Majesty will be obliged to follow the advice of her Ministers, as she is in relation to the United Kingdom, its dominions and Crown dependencies outside the territories of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State shakes his head; I shall be happy to give way, or for him to correct me later.

Clause 28(1) says: An Act of the Scottish Parliament is not law so far as any provision of the Act is outside the legislative competence of the Parliament. I do not understand why that provision refers to an Act of Parliament, which has therefore been passed by the Parliament and given Royal Assent, and does not say that a Bill before the Parliament cannot become an Act, and therefore cannot go to Her Majesty the Queen to seek Royal Assent, until it has been proved that Parliament has clear legislative competence to act in that way.

To put it at its simplest, I am concerned that Her Majesty the Queen may receive contradictory advice from two separate Administrations within the United Kingdom.

On the one hand, the Scottish Parliament, particularly if it had a hefty SNP representation, might pass legislation which would be sent to the Queen to which, under the Bill, she would be obliged to give Royal Assent and it would become an Act of the Scottish Parliament. On the other hand, clause 28 says that an Act shall not have the effect of law if it is beyond the competence of the Parliament.

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman should table amendments at the relevant point in the Bill's Committee stage. This has nothing to do with the amendments that we are discussing. But, in any event, as he knows, if there is a question about vires, which is the only matter that could arise, there are challenge procedures which would take us to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That would be a rare event, but the procedure is available.

Obviously, if that challenge is lodged timeously and is going to the Privy Council, there is no question of Royal Assent being given. If there is no such challenge, the Queen will take the advice offered to her, and give Royal Assent. The hon. Gentleman may be worried about that, but there has been much consultation, as he would imagine, with the proper authorities in this area, and they are not.

Mr. Collins

The reason, I imagine, that 1 was not ruled out of order before is that I was trying to make the case for amendment No. 2 because it states that, throughout the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom Parliament has total and unequivocal sovereignty, and therefore it is the Queen in this Parliament who has the supreme legislative authority in Scotland. That is why I was trying to point out that the lack of such a clear statement in the Bill could give rise to considerable constitutional difficulties.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that the key word, which he rightly emphasises, is "supremacy". Every right-thinking writer on the subject of sovereignty must understand the issue of supremacy—the supreme ability to exercise legitimate power. The amendment deals with supremacy, and that is why the Government are so frightened of it and are opposing it.

Mr. Collins

I entirely agree—my hon. Friend makes the point well.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the hon. Gentleman be a messenger to the Government requesting their best advice on when we should raise the question of the conflicting sources of advice? The Scottish First Minister is clearly to advise the Queen, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom can advise the Queen, and their advice may not be the same. Will the Secretary of State, with all his support, advise us when we can table probing amendments to explore that real problem?

Mr. Collins

It is a genuine pleasure to take part in debates on this vital constitutional question in the hon. Gentleman's presence. From outside these walls, I followed his contributions on these matters for many years.

I agree that one of the many difficulties with the proposals is that there is an assumption that there will always be amity, co-operation and an identity of view between the different institutions. That may sometimes occur, but, it is not inevitable. Difficulties may arise, not least because of the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes, as a result of the Head of State of the United Kingdom attracting different advice from Ministers in different parts of the United Kingdom, and genuinely being unsure which she should follow. I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about the potential danger.

That is why I return to the central argument in favour of the amendment, which is that it mirrors provisions that are already on the statute book in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Those provisions have not been amended by successive Conservative and Labour Governments since that time, but have been regarded as a clear and highly acceptable statement of the position regarding Northern Ireland. They offer a model for the people of Scotland which would give them exactly what the Prime Minister told them they would receive if they voted yes in the September 1997 referendum, which was no threat to their continued participation in the United Kingdom and the governance of that United Kingdom by the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. Hawkins

My hon. Friend develops an extremely well-observed argument for the importance of the amendment in respect of stability. Does he agree that one of the central elements is the stability of the Queen in Parliament as the sovereign power? The hon. Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) drew parallels with other European states, and the latter mentioned Catalonia, but he forgot that one reason why, on the death of Franco, the Spanish people chose to bring back their royal family was to get the stability and the guarantee of democracy that a monarchy could provide. The Spanish returned to the democratic stability of the monarch in Parliament—or, in the case of the Spanish, in the Cortes.

6 pm

Mr. Collins

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend—once again, he has provided support for my argument. The amendment clearly would improve the Bill.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow set out a powerful case why it may not be possible for any form of legislation along the lines of the Bill to be compatible with the continuation of the United Kingdom. That case has been argued by many senior and distinguished people, and it is one for which I have some sympathy, but we must continue to try to improve the legislation. The amendment would indisputably improve the legislation; that is why I support it.

Mr. Godman

I shall be brief, mainly because I am tempted to say that the debate on the amendment is a sheer waste of time. Let us look at its wording: the supreme authority of the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall remain unaffected and undiminished". What many right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches choose to ignore is that we live in a multinational state that is undergoing profound constitutional change. The relationships between the nations and the Province of Northern Ireland are undergoing change. We have a Scottish Parliament on the parliamentary stocks and a Welsh assembly about to be created. The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) is engaged in negotiations that may or could lead—

Mr. Robert McCartney

indicated dissent.

Mr. Godman

I see the hon. Gentleman denying all responsibility, but I was about to say that those negotiations may or could lead to the creation of a similar body in Northern Ireland. The fact of the changes in the relationships between these nations and Northern Ireland must inevitably place some constraints on the supreme authority of Parliament.

A modus vivendi will be established between Edinburgh and London, and there will be few references to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It is in the interests of the different Parliaments and assemblies to arrive at amicable and mutually acceptable arrangements. In the circumstances of profound constitutional change, one cannot hope to maintain the supreme authority of Parliament and assert that it should "remain unaffected and undiminished". That is an absurd objective vis-a-vis the changes we are experiencing.

Mr. Gorrie

I should like to restate our position on the question of sovereignty, which obviously hangs up several hon. Members.

As we see it, the people—whether the Scottish people, the English people, or any other people—have sovereignty; they may then choose to give bits of it, in trust, to various organisations. In the case of the United Kingdom, we have given some sovereignty in trust to the institutions of Europe, which now run various matters on our behalf.

At present, the Westminster Parliament enjoys the sovereignty entrusted to it by the Scottish people, but the Scottish people wish to change that system, and they are taking some of areas of responsibility back to a Scottish Parliament. Therefore, responsibility for and sovereignty over Scottish affairs will have been delegated by the Scottish people to three separate organisations, which do not overlap—they are separate.

Mr. Hayes

If the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, as he surely will, that the definition of sovereignty implies supremacy, how is that supremacy divisible in the way he describes?

Mr. Gorrie

I do not subscribe to that concept—I am not a supremacy freak, although clearly the House contains a large number. I am interested in the popular sovereignty, which is given in trust to various different bodies. The Scottish Parliament will have powers over education, health and so on; this Parliament will have powers over benefits and similar matters; it will not be possible for the Scottish Parliament to interfere with benefits. The division is quite clear.

The matter is well set out in the declaration of Arbroath, in which the Scottish people said that they fully supported Robert the Bruce—he was a great man, who had driven out Edward II and freed the country—but, if Robert the Bruce went wrong and sold out to the English Government, they would remove him and set up their own Government. The power was handed in trust to the king, and it could be taken back. That is a classical statement. [Interruption.] Does the Secretary of State wish to intervene?

Mr. Dewar

I was sure that the community of the realm and Robert the Bruce would appear, and I am delighted that they have. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to read Professor Barrow on the subject. He points out that almost everyone who signed the declaration of Arbroath had either lost his lands or been executed within a few years, and that they were a nasty collection of disloyal robber barons.

Mr. Gorrie

I have recently been reading Professor Barrow on precisely this subject. The fact is that most of the best political statements have been made by complete villains—[Laughter.] It is quite true. Wilkes and Paine were in many ways men of low moral character, but they made important political statements. The declaration of Arbroath was bang on the nail, and the fact that some crooked barons signed it is neither here nor there.

Mr. Salmond

In support of the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that Magna Carta, which is often quoted in the House, was hardly the work of socially minded and peaceful people. In defence of my old tutor, Geoffrey Barrow, I should say that his entire argument about the term "community of the realm" was that, at that period in Scotland's history, the concept went beyond the king, beyond the nobles and beyond the barons. It encompassed something far larger than that, which was that in which it was important.

Mr. Gorrie

My next point is that we feel that the answer to some of the concerns, which are obviously sincerely felt by some hon. Members, about what happens in respect of the management of England, is that the English need to exert their popular sovereignty and decide how the affairs of England should be run. That should be the next stage after this.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) cast doubt on the idea that the Scottish Parliament would refrain from interfering in areas that were not its province, and suggested that candidates would promise things that they could not deliver.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow has great experience here. I have had quite long experience in the much more humble role of councillor, where it is clear what one can and cannot do. If an election candidate goes about promising to deliver all sorts of things, which his opponents can say that he has no power to deliver, that candidate will be gutted; he will not stand a chance. If Scottish politicians in the Scottish Parliament start promising things outwith that Parliament's powers of delivery, they will not survive. The fear, therefore, is not relevant or legitimate.

The question whether the Scottish Parliament may invade the prerogatives of Westminster is well covered in several parts of the Bill that set out all sorts of locks and balances to prevent the Scottish Parliament from doing precisely that. There are all sorts of rules relating to judicial powers, Privy Councils and Officers. The Bill clearly sets out mechanisms to prevent the Scottish Parliament from taking action that it should not.

Amendment No. 23, supported by the Liberal Democrats and the nationalists, seeks to clarify the vexed clause 27. It clearly states that the Westminster Parliament can make rules affecting Scotland in non-devolved, reserved, matters. It seems sensible to clarify that. I urge the Secretary of State to look again at clause 27(7), and make it absolutely clear. During today's debate, it has become apparent that the subject is not clear in some people's minds.

Mr. Grieve

I have made a number of interventions, so I shall try to be brief, but there are a couple of points that can usefully be made.

There seems to be a misunderstanding about the position of Conservative Members. We accept that there has been a referendum. As I have said before to the Secretary of State, that is why we wish to co-operate in trying to create a sensible piece of legislation that can be passed by the House and that will allow the new Union that will result from the changes to work, which is essential. It may not work—the worst fears of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) may be correct—but at least it is worth a try.

The foundation for the legislation must be the foundation of legal principle, which is the only way to have sensible devolution and a sensible Parliament in Scotland. It has been suggested that the great theme of popular sovereignty belongs to Scotland alone, not here. I can assure the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) that there have been plenty of occasions in English history when people have made assertions about popular sovereignty—usually to do something unpleasant.

I seem to remember that a Bishop of London once preached before the House of Lords and the House of Commons on the deposition of King Edward II, on the theme of "vox populi, vox dei", declaring the king deposed because the voice of the people was the voice of God. I do not think that I shall go that far. Popular sovereignty is a meaningless phrase. Everyone may assert sovereignty; ultimately it is a willingness to accept that there are structures, such as entities called countries, which are the foundations on which legal government can be conducted.

Let us consider the reality of what the Secretary of State is trying to achieve with the Bill. It is clear that, if the Bill is to work, the Westminster Parliament's involvement in spheres that have been devolved to Edinburgh should, as far as is humanly possible, be avoided, but there may be instances where it will happen.

We need look no further than clause 54 to see that that is precisely what may happen: the Secretary of State might direct the Scottish Parliament to introduce legislation on a devolved matter to make Scotland conform with our international obligations. The idea that clause 27 might never be invoked and that the part of the Bill dealing with parliamentary supremacy at Westminster is irrelevant or merely a piece of decoration, is—I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion)—simply not realistic. If one reads the whole Bill, one realises that there are occasions when that might happen.

Mr. McAllion

I recognise that there might be occasions when this Parliament thinks that it can order the Scottish Parliament to carry out actions, particularly on devolved matters. But, in reality, if it ever tried to do that, it would break asunder the United Kingdom. It is not a practical, but a theoretical, power, which could never be used without threatening the Union.

Mr. Grieve

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is worrying. I realise that a number of hon. Members who have spoken have taken the same attitude as the hon. Member for Dundee, East, but his view should be particularly worrying to the Secretary of State because he is nominally a supporter of the Government. If that is the hon. Gentleman's attitude, he is in error. If one considers the legislation, it becomes apparent that there may be occasions when that may happen. I hope that it will not, but it may. The purpose of the amendment—

6.15 pm
Mr. Galloway

Why does the hon. Gentleman think that the Scottish Parliament would require this place to bring it into line with international obligations? Why does he not think that a grown-up Parliament would be more than ready to undertake its international obligations without having to be led by the hand by the rather dubious prospect of a parliamentary majority here?

Mr. Grieve

I hope very much that the hon. Gentleman is right. I fully agree with him in that I should have thought that in most cases—I cannot predict the future—that is precisely what would happen.

We are having to put together a piece of legislation that will have the force of law to deal with contingencies. If the Secretary of State did not think that this contingency had to be addressed, he would not have included clause 54. The fact that it is there means that we have to consider it. It has been clearly been considered in clause 27(7). It is significant that a number of hon. Members, including Liberal Democrat Members, do not want it to appear in the Bill. It would drive a cart and horses through the principle of the residual power of the Foreign Secretary to give such a direction or for the House to do something if a direction is not observed. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has tabled his amendment; it is a clear restatement of the position.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

In dealing with the contingency, the hon. Gentleman is seeking a stifling monopoly of political power. Amendment No. 2 refers to supreme authority … over all persons, matters and things in Scotland. The UK Parliament would have absolute control of our people, including what they do. The last person who advocated that was King Edward I, which means that the Conservatives are 700 years out of date. The rest of us want to get on and run the 21st century.

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman may dislike it, but that is the reality of the way in which the Bill has been presented to us. All that my right hon. Friend's amendment does is to restate in plain language the truth about the legislation.

As it is unlikely that the amendment will be accepted, it is effectively a probing amendment, but its use as a probing amendment has been extremely revealing and, I have to say to the Secretary of State, rather depressing. [Interruption.] It is not a game. We shall have to live with the legislation in the House and, unless it works and people are prepared to accept the framework, it will, as the hon. Member for Dundee, East suggests, fall apart.

Mr. Dewar

I entirely accept that it is legitimate to table probing amendments; I have done so many thousands of times in the past 20 years, and I am not ashamed of it. But what the hon. Gentleman is saying is not compatible with the statement of the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) that, if I do not accept the amendment, my words will turn to dust in my throat. I was wondering which side the hon. Gentleman was on.

Mr. Grieve

I should have thought that it was perfectly compatible. Given the majority that the Labour party commands in this House, the Secretary of State can accept or reject an amendment and the Government are likely to carry the day in the Division Lobby. That does not alter the need for debating the issue, which, I submit, is an important one. I hope very much that the Bill, as drafted by the Secretary of State, works; but I observe that, judging by the various views that have been expressed in this debate, many hon. Members' opinions of what devolved government should be about are wholly at variance with what the legislation offers.

Mr. Hayes

There seems to be an essential difference between the contributions that we have heard from the two sides of the Committee: Conservative Members place a special and particular value on parliamentary democracy and on the important ideas, traditions and history that are its foundations, an attitude that stood in contrast in the debate to the rather flippant and casual disregard—to be generous, perhaps justified by ignorance rather than caused by malice—that Labour Members have for our sacred parliamentary democracy and its traditions.

That disregard was no better illustrated than by the hon. Member for Dundee, West—

Mr. McAllion

Dundee, East.

Mr. Hayes

I am sorry; Dundee, East. I am not intimately familiar with Dundee, but I of course apologise. I meant the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). [Interruption.] Well, at least I always eat the marmalade.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East said that he disagreed with what I believe he described as the theoretical nature of democratic accountability provided by Parliament, but later recommended the theoretical nature of the principle of consent. Consent is a refined and sophisticated political notion. It is no more or less tangible than democratic accountability. Worse still, the hon. Gentleman then spoke about his support for the notion of subsidiarity. Writers, thinkers and political theorists greater than him or me have found it difficult to define the nature of subsidiarity, but subsidiarity is definitely a less tangible political notion than that of the democratic accountability provided by Parliament.

I suggest to the hon. Member for Dundee, East that, in a more cogent explanation of sovereignty, he would have to alight on the issue of supremacy, which I raised in an earlier intervention. I suggest that because, although legal sovereignty may be provided by international legal recognition of the independence of a state, political sovereignty—as has been recognised by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dryden, Shelley and writers throughout the ages—inevitably has much to do with the principle of supremacy: in this case that means the supremacy of this Parliament. The hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge that vital fact.

The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) lapsed further. His grasp of the matter was even more limited. He spoke about sovereignty as though it could be dished out—as though it could be collected and divided up. He spoke as though sovereignty, instead of resting in an institution, instead of forming part of an evolutionary development, instead of being part of a coherent tradition, was something that was divvied up among people—extraordinary.

Mr. Wallace

On reflection, my view is accurate. Is not what happened in 1707 that sovereignty was transferred from the Scottish Parliament to this Parliament, and that the people's sovereignty, which had been entrusted in the Parliament of Scotland, was transferred to the Parliament at Westminster? So sovereignty really can be transferred and divvied up. It is not something that just exists in one place for ever.

Mr. Hayes

I suggest that legitimate political sovereignty is the right to govern—and the ability to govern—free from external influence. It implies a degree of supremacy. Of course it can exist in more than one place, and of course this Parliament could take a conscious decision, in the way that the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests, to give up its sovereignty, but it could not simultaneously retain its political integrity as the supreme body ruling over the United Kingdom.

Of course no set of political conditions is fixed in stone, but if this Parliament decided to give up its sovereignty, it would lose supremacy—its supreme right to govern these islands. The hon. and learned Gentleman may wish that to happen, but his friends—

Mr. Galloway

Is not that precisely what happened when we joined the European Community; when we passed the Single European Act; when we passed the Maastricht treaty into law? Would it not be a further step along that road if we were to enter economic and monetary union? Surely the hon. Gentleman's arguments are nonsense.

Mr. Hayes

I will not allow the hon. Gentleman to seduce me into giving—

Mr. Galloway

No chance.

Mr. Hayes

Well, he might be enthusiastic about the prospect, but I shall not allow him to seduce me into giving a discourse on the nature of sovereignty in relation to Europe, not only because it would take up more time than I have, but because you, Mr. Lord, would call me to order. However, I will say that of course that is a legitimate consideration in relation to Europe, and many Conservative Members fully understand the risk to sovereignty that is posed by those dark forces. That is precisely why the Conservative party stands for the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, free from that type of external interference.

Given that, I believe, we all accept that sovereignty is ultimately a matter of supremacy—that is what the amendments say, and the point has been raised previously by many Opposition Members—the Government must face up to the issue of how to present that to the Scottish people.

Of course there is nothing implicitly wrong with dividing political power. Political power can be divided under a unitary constitution. The supremacy of this Parliament is not necessarily affected by the delegation of its political powers; powers are divided between local and central Government. For many years, the exercise of political powers has been divided in this way among many institutions as part of our democratic political system, yet Parliament remains supreme.

However, once one divides sovereignty in the way that has been suggested from the Liberal Democrat Benches and from the Labour Benches, one must face up to the threat that that poses to the integrity of this House of Commons, and the people of the United Kingdom through this House of Commons.

John Stuart Mill said—[Interruption.] Well, we have had Robert the Bruce; 1 thought that we would have John Stuart Mill. No good debate is complete without both. John Stuart Mill said in 1865 that the optimum form of government is one in which the sovereignty, or the supreme controlling power in the last resort, is vested in the entire aggregate of the community and the aggregation of the community of the United Kingdom is this place. The people of the United Kingdom speak through their elected Parliament, and one casts that aside, surely, at the peril of the people. It should not be done callously and lightly. It should not be done without due consideration of the long-term effect.

The importance of the amendments before us is not about the division of political power. One could vote for the amendments and still be in favour of a form of devolution. One could vote for the amendments and still be in favour of a different settlement in terms of the divisions of political authority.

Sir Robert Smith

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hayes

I am just reaching a conclusion, so I will not. The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) spoke volumes from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench earlier.

One cannot support the Government in the Division, however, if one believes in the supremacy of the people of the United Kingdom, expressed through this Parliament. If the Conservative party is the only party that believes in that, it is a sorry day for this kingdom and for this Parliament, but if that is the case, we shall proudly defend those appropriate, ancient and precious democratic traditions.

Mr. Home Robertson

The good people of South Holland and The Deepings might be a little puzzled by the notion that this Parliament is sovereign, rather than the people. I never thought that I would take part in a chicken-and-egg debate in the House. Which came first, the people or the Parliament? Clearly, the people; the Parliament is the creature of the people, and that is as it should be.

The amendment is mischievous. It seeks to retain in this Parliament something that neither the Government nor the people intend to be retained. Clause 27(7) provides for this House to legislate on the reserved subjects. That is entirely proper and in accordance with the decision taken by the people in the referendum.

Mr. Ancram

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Home Robertson

No, I have undertaken to be brief, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must wind up shortly.

Having listened to Opposition Members, I am concerned that there may be attempts by another Government in this place to encroach on the devolved powers. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take the opportunity to say more about the case for finding ways of entrenching the decision taken by the people of Scotland at the referendum of 11 September.

6.30 pm

We have had a long debate about the settled will of the people of Scotland, which reached a clear conclusion in the referendum: 74.29 per cent. of our people, in a high turnout on a rainy day, voted for the Scottish Parliament to be established in accordance with the White Paper put to the people by my right hon. Friend, with a clear list of what was to be devolved and what was not to be devolved.

My anxiety is that, at some time in the future, some current Opposition Members might seek to interfere with that clear decision of the Scottish people. That is one of the reasons why I tabled amendment No. 91, which was not selected. It would amend the long title of the Bill to refer to the fact that the Bill is being put through Parliament with the specific consent of the people of Scotland in the referendum.

I recognise that entrenchment in the sense of one Parliament seeking to bind its successor is not feasible, but if we are to use referendums in our constitutional arrangements, they should not be regarded simply as one-off opinion polls. If we ask the people to make fundamental decisions about the constitution of this country, we should ensure that that decision is understood as a popular decision. It should not be tampered with without the consent of those self-same people. I put it to my right hon. Friend that there is a case for referring in the Bill to the fact that it is enacted on the strength of a popular decision in a referendum. That should apply also to any future legislation that is enacted following a referendum.

Mr. Dewar

I begin by congratulating everyone on a varied and interesting debate. That is a form of words, as the House will recognise: a verbal screen—not scream—for some highly idiosyncratic points.

I was delighted that MacCorrnick v. Lord Advocate cropped up again. We can always rely on the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). It is an old friend revisited. Lord Cooper would never have imagined, I hope, the deification of his views on the matter, which have become a mark of the Liberal Democrat party.

I also thought that we would revisit the Wars of the Roses, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) did not disappoint me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Wars of independence."] I am sorry. Wars of independence.

Ms Roseanna Cunningham (Perth)

Where was the right hon. Gentleman educated?

Mr. Dewar

Not in Perth, Australia; that is certainly true, and that is why the hon. Lady is so well based in Scottish history. The wars of independence were splendid, stirring times, but as a quarry for political theory for the 21st century, I find them a little less than persuasive.

The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland referred to another much-loved favourite, the Church of Scotland Act 1921. I was thinking of rehearsing some of the parallels from the Welsh disestablishment Act, as Mr. Gladstone was particularly fond of it and thought that it was one of the central issues of constitutional reform, but I decided against that, just as I declined to take up the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) to enter into the Czech and Slovak question, beguiling though it was.

I began to pale, if not swoon away, when the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) began to speak about Shelley and Dryden.

The one piece of information that I got from the debate was details of the proposed funeral arrangements for my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway). I hope that I am there to see the box being carried out. [Interruption.] I say that because I believe that I will live for ever.

It has been an important debate, which raised some fundamental issues. I do not shy away from the concept of power to the people, in the people and with the people. It is one of the oldest, and probably one of the most legitimate, political slogans of all time. However, we must have some sense of perspective.

I do not panic before the slogan "Power to the people", unlike the hon. Member for Solihull, who said that, if we started following popular democracy, there would be no end to it. I understand why a Conservative politician should take that view. Popular democracy of any kind is not likely to commend itself, but we must be more dispassionate about such matters. I remember the hon. Gentleman's father—

Mr. Grieve

My father was the Member of Parliament for Solihull.

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman is the hon. Member for somewhere that I know not of. That is my fault.

On the substance of the matter, I am interested in trying to build a practical system that will work to the advantage of this House, the new Scottish Parliament which we hope to create, and the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. I have been sparring for close on 40 years on definitions of sovereignty. It is perhaps time to call a halt, and to examine practical systems of government and how we can make them real.

There is an important distinction, which has become a little blurred. I agree entirely about popular sovereignty, in the sense that if, for example, we want to move away from devolution settlements towards an independent settlement for Scotland, and if we want to move back into a more fully incorporating Union, that is a matter for the people.

The people can change the constitution. It may not be widely understood that, while one is in a constitutional set-up, one is in a sense changing it, but one cannot walk out on it, so to speak. One can move to total independence, but while one remains within the United Kingdom, and more important, while one remains represented in the United Kingdom Parliament, which is one of the marks of this settlement, one must live with the realities of that system and the Parliament. I commend that point to some of my hon. Friends.

I recognise that the sovereignty of Parliament is not necessarily a sympathetic concept, but even those who believe in popular sovereignty in the most simplistic sense and reject the distinction that I have tried to draw to the attention of the Committee, and hon. Members on both sides of the argument who have prayed in aid the White Paper, should remember what it said.

Paragraph 4.2 stated: Under the Government's proposals, the UK Parliament will devolve wide ranging legislative powers to the Scottish Parliament. Scotland will of course remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. The Queen will continue to be Head of State of the United Kingdom. The UK Parliament is and will remain sovereign in all matters: but as part of the Government's resolve to modernise the British constitution Westminster will be choosing to exercise that sovereignty by devolving legislative responsibilities to a Scottish Parliament". That is what Scotland voted for. It is a succinct statement of the kernel of the case for devolution within the United Kingdom. If we believe in popular sovereignty, we directly endorsed that concept in that passage only a few weeks ago.

I put it to the Committee in all seriousness that what we have in the Bill, whether individuals like it or not, is the legislative enactment of paragraph 4.2 of the White Paper. That is something which we must hold on to as a foundation for our continuing arguments and discussions during the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Salmond

Was the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, right to tell the House: Within the areas of devolved responsibility, laws passed by the Scottish Parliament are not open to cancellation."?—[Official Report, 13 January 1998; Vol. 304, c.155.]

Mr. Dewar

On occasion, we all talk in shorthand, and that was a practical description of what I think we all want to see.

It is clear that what we have is an important division of responsibility, one that is logical, strong and internally sound. It says that we are to have a level playing field for economic matters, for macro-economics, fiscal matters, defence and foreign affairs. These will all remain on a United Kingdom basis, but there are areas in which the Parliament—I hope that it is this Parliament—will be persuaded that it should pass authority to a Scottish body that is directly elected, reflecting Scottish opinion.

The sovereignty of Parliament, which is explicitly recognised in the White Paper, will continue in that there is a possibility, in theory, of the United Kingdom Parliament legislating across those areas, but it is not one which we anticipate or expect. One of my difficulties with some of the amendments is that they seem to be trying to raise that possibility as a practical part of the daily passage of politics and business in this country. That is how they will be interpreted. I object to them, in the same way that I would object to other amendments that have been tabled that seem to represent a sleight of hand, trying to suggest to people in Scotland that something cannot happen when in fact it can, and that the power remains, even though, practically, it will not.

Mr. Salmond


Mr. Dewar

Let me just finish this point, as it is important. I will let the hon. Gentleman intervene, as I am never blate about doing that.

The hon. Member who does not represent Solihull, which perhaps does not help the Committee very much, but whose father did; that is a clue—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Beaconsfield."[—so that is why he survived. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) made a persuasive argument and an important point. He drew attention to clause 54, which is a specific and tightly drawn safety net in case a Scottish Parliament—I hope that the situation will never arise—mistakenly insisted on policies that ran counter to international obligations and put the United Kingdom Government at risk.

We have had to deal with that specific exception. We do not expect the general power, the concept of sovereignty, to be exercised. Only in specific circumstances, which we have tried to define in the Bill—and very unusual they would be—are we trying to build in such an override power.

Mr. Hayes


Mr. Salmond


Mr. Dewar

I give way first to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings.

Mr. Hayes

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the spirit in which he is addressing the debate. The clause to which he referred, which deals with the resolution of a conflict of authority, makes it clear that the supreme authority lies with this Parliament.

Amendment No. 2 talks about supreme authority. The White Paper talks about ultimate authority or ultimate sovereignty. How does the right hon. Gentleman define the difference between the two? If there is no difference, why does he have a problem with the amendment?

Mr. Dewar

I think that some of the difficulties may arise in the spirit in which the amendment has been tabled, because it is a double-edged weapon. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there is no difference between the text and what he is trying to put in, why does he say that this is such an important lead amendment? It is because there is a hidden agenda behind it, and I am not prepared to go down that road.

6.45 pm

We on the Government Benches do not drift along on a rosy haze of expecting happy harmony on all occasions and on all fronts. When the hon. Gentleman is a great man and sits behind the Dispatch Box—in 2500, or whenever it may be—there may well be friction, but the whole point is that we have built in sensible provision, of which clause 54 is an example. We have built in the fast-track procedure for disputes over vires, leading only rarely, we hope, to the judicial committee of the Privy Council. We are constantly trying to put in these safeguards, hoping that their presence will seldom be a practical matter, and that we will always be able, as we do in the United Kingdom, to work together for common aims and objectives and with widely shared common interests.

Mr. Salmond

Is the Secretary of State now saying quite the opposite to what the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, told us two weeks ago: that a future Westminster Parliament could, if it so wished, introduce a poll tax in Scotland?

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman is not a silly man, although he may be mistaken and misguided. He campaigned to endorse the sovereignty of Parliament when he campaigned for the White Paper. That is, perhaps, an unfair point, but he understands what I am saying. He took it warts and all. 1 accept that he would have written a different White Paper. I accept that he will argue for further change, as he is entitled to do, but it is no good his coming forward and saying to me, "I want to change the White Paper now by means of one amendment in Committee."

The White Paper embodies popular democracy. It was endorsed. The hon. Member is right to point out that parliamentary sovereignty still exists, but we have built the whole system on the basis—the Conservative party now accepts this—that, in areas such as health, education and housing, and on a multiplicity of other domestic matters, we have the right to make the law in a body that reflects Scottish opinion. That is seen by us, at least, as a way to improve significantly the situation of Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell

Look: silly, misguided, mistaken we may be, but could we have a direct answer to the question: under the present proposals, could Westminster introduce a poll tax into Scotland?

Mr. Dewar

That would assume that Westminster was tearing up the entire settlement. That seems to me a totally otiose statement. To do so would run contrary to the whole basis on which this has been put together. I know that my hon. Friend thinks that it is a trick question. He knows the answer, and he must have read the Bill. He is a man of considerable experience, enormous tenacity and considerable ability, but he is asking a question that is not essential to this particular debate.

Mr. Wallace

Let us get away from the things that would tear up the settlement, such as Westminster introducing a poll tax. Can the Secretary of State envisage a circumstance in which a clause in a private Member's Bill, because of the way in which it was drafted, would impact on Scotland on what everyone assumed was a devolved matter? What assurance can he give us that such confusion, which could affect citizens in their everyday lives, will not happen? Inadvertently or otherwise, a law might be passed in this House that could affect Scotland in what is accepted to be a devolved matter.

Mr. Dewar

That will obviously be watched carefully by hon. Members on both sides of the House. There are certain problems with limitations in private Members' Bills—for example, expenditure. If something impinged on the powers that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, or at least are not reserved to the Westminster Parliament, to be precise, that is something which I would expect the House to avoid.

There will be a little flexibility. Later, we shall debate powers that blur the distinction to the advantage of the Scottish Parliament, allowing it to legislate on devolved matters, but having a clear impact on reserved matters. To the purist, that may seem to be an impossibility and a contradiction, but we are making allowance for it in the interests of the good government of the country.

There are impracticalities in this group of amendments, which we have to guard against. The sovereignty of Parliament has been used properly in the past to argue that no Parliament can bind its successors. That is seen in some way as an odd situation, but in practical terms it is inevitable.

It we have a devolved Parliament in Edinburgh it will not be able to bind its successors. If we have an independent Parliament in Edinburgh, which regards the rest of the United Kingdom as just another friendly country, that Parliament will not be able to bind its successors, for the simple reason that the law would be ossified and caught in a time warp, which would be ludicrous. We must all live with the idea of the sovereignty of a legislative body and its inability to bind its successors. If one accepts that concept, one must live with it as Members of the United Kingdom Parliament, as those who represent other parts of the United Kingdom in this Parliament live with it.

I know that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) wishes to say a word or two on behalf of the Conservative party, so I shall conclude by saying that this provision is the right balance. In answer to the fears expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, it is not a matter of undermining Westminster's sovereignty. A great deal of influence will be left with the Westminster Parliament, but its real influence will be that we shall remain Members of it and will still look to it for extremely powerful areas of policy. I hope that many of my hon. Friends will be here for a long time to guard Scotland's interests, whether on taxation, industrial matters, macro-economics, foreign affairs or defence.

It is a case not of stripping Westminster's sovereignty but of Westminster using its judgment to pass legislation sensibly. We have made an honest attempt to translate the White Paper into statute, which is what we voted for. It would be extremely wise of the Committee to accept that argument and leave matters at peace.

The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has frequently said that to make the system work it is necessary to have a Scottish Parliament. Although he may be a reluctant convert, I know that it is a genuine conversion. If he lives up to those aspirations, he will understand why we prefer the present draft, which is a balance between the flak that is flying from both sides of the argument and what is right for Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Salmond

I rise to make two points. First, as the Secretary of State knows, I campaigned for the White Paper during the referendum campaign because of the right of the people of Scotland as a sovereign body to opt for independence whenever they chose. The Secretary of State has admitted that openly and freely, and has held that view for many years. I welcome the fact that that right has not been seriously disputed in this debate. However, there was a clear understanding during the campaign—I remember the occasions on which it was outlined—

Mr. Dalyell

indicated assent.

Mr. Salmond

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is nodding. It was clearly stated that matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament would be left to the people of Scotland, including matters such as the poll tax.

Mr. Dewar

indicated dissent.

Mr. Salmond

The Secretary of State shakes his head, but that is what the House was told two weeks ago by the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office. He said that private legislation could not overturn Acts of the Scottish Parliament and that devolved matters could not be cancelled by the Westminster Parliament.

The Secretary of State can quote from the White Paper and we can all quote the Prime Minister recognising the sovereignty of the Scottish people. Indeed, we can quote them until we are blue in the face, but two weeks ago people had the clear understanding that some matters would be devolved and other matters reserved, because that was articulated by the Minister of State.

Mr. Dewar

The hon. Gentleman is making a mountain out of a molehill, which is skilful. Ultimately, the White Paper is absolutely clear. That is what we fought the referendum campaign on together, and neither of us misunderstood that position.

Mr. Salmond

The Secretary of State skirted round the answer to the question asked by me and by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. The answer to the question whether the Westminster Parliament could impose a poll tax on the Scottish people, regardless of the fact that it would be a devolved matter, is yes. That answer would not be widely acceptable in Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell

The difficulty is that the whole referendum was sold on the basis that the Parliament would protect the Scottish people from the ravages of Margaret Thatcher's poll tax. That was the public's understanding.

Mr. Salmond

For the second time this evening—probably for the second time in my life—I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Linlithgow.

I wish to make one more point before I allow the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) to sum up on behalf of the Conservative party—a courtesy which Conservative Members have not always extended to me under similar circumstances—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members want to continue the debate, I am prepared to continue speaking until 7 pm.

I have been doing some research and have found that, on 22 November 1977, the then Scotland Bill contained a clause on the supreme authority of the Westminster Parliament. The clause was deleted in Committee and the Government of the day did not try to reintroduce it. Among those who voted to delete the clause were Lady Thatcher, Lord Tebbit and other Conservative Members, who argued that the clause was meaningless and declaratory. They said that the form of words had no meaning because it was political reality which dictated events. When he sums up, I hope that the hon. Member for Woodspring will explain why the Conservative party wants to go further tonight than even Lady Thatcher was prepared to go in 1977.

Dr. Fox

It is a pity that we are running so short of time, because many points have been made which I should have liked to take up, especially the last point raised by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). I shall deal with that later in the Committee stage.

I am also sorry that we did not have more time to hear from the Secretary of State, because he laid out the Government's Unionist credentials and I very much welcomed that. He gave a clear interpretation of what will remain sovereign and how the White Paper translates into the Bill.

We have had an interesting debate on sovereignty, not least because we have had so many different definitions of what sovereignty means. We wanted to make our intentions clear at the outset. Amendment No. 2 is not a probing amendment and we shall push it to a Division. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) talked about making the Bill work by making it clear at the outset, and about making the new Union survive and work well. We shall work with the Government so long as we feel that they are working in the correct direction.

I am not a lawyer—a fact for which I thank God every morning—but a member of a profession that helps lawyers earn their money: a doctor. I do not claim to be an academic, nor do I wish to entertain an academic debate, but the point has been made and I should clarify it now: political sovereignty ultimately rests with the people, but it is vested in and exercised by Parliament on their behalf with their consent. If the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish people want to leave the Union, they clearly have the right to do so. However, in the referendum, people voted for devolution within the Union, as they vote to remain within the Union in successive general elections by voting for Unionist parties, as the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said, whatever the blueprint of those parties for internal governmental construction.

A great deal of the debate has been about the technical definitions of sovereignty and its practical effect. In answer to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), in theory sovereignty is not diminished if it is delegated. Devolution delegates powers where federalism divides powers. I agree with the vast majority of what he said. The Committee's failure to agree what sovereignty means shows the inherent instability of what we may create if we do not iron out those problems at the outset of the Committee stage.

The amendment seeks to reinforce our belief that this Parliament should remain absolutely sovereign as long as the Union remains. We want to put it at the start of the Bill, and to clarify the legislative limitations of the Scottish Parliament in amendment No. 198, to show not only that Westminster is legislatively sovereign but that the Scottish Parliament cannot amend or repeal Westminster legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) made that clear.

I was astonished by the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), who is no longer in his seat. He said that the amendment was taken largely from the Government of Ireland Act 1920, section 75 of which implied that there were no matters for which the Northern Ireland Parliament and Government were solely responsible. Admittedly, the powers were not used until 1960, but it was accepted that those powers were valid as long as Northern Ireland was part of the Union. We are being challenged to accept that proposition for Scotland. That wonderful intervention by the hon. and learned Member for North Down, who said that the Prime Minister promised him that such a proposition would be in the Scotland Bill, was extremely interesting.

I do not have time to deal with all the points that were raised. The hon. Member for Linlithgow warned that giving a Scottish Parliament commitments without legislative responsibility or power would be dangerous. Commitments given by those who do not want the Parliament to work would be the most dangerous.

The hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland said that candidates should be given notice of what powers the Parliament will have, and he hoped that we would be grown up and use them sensibly. The intervention by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan showed exactly what attitude the Scottish nationalists will take into a Scottish Parliament: they want to destroy it, and that is extremely dangerous.

Clause 27 is about the ability to make laws for Scotland. The Secretary of State made it clear that it is not just about reserved powers. If Scotland remains part of the Union, the Westminster Parliament must be the sovereign decision-making body on all issues. That is reasonable: I do not agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan that it is offensive.

We need clarification at the outset. We must accentuate that provision by putting it at the beginning of the Bill. We support the basic ethos of clause 27, but, until it is clarified, the Government's Unionist credentials will not be as apparent as they must be if they are to satisfy us, and if they are to put clear water between them and the nationalists, who have campaigned as the Trojan horse.

It being Seven o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Order [13 January] and the Resolution this day, put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 127, Noes 341.

Division No. 142] [7 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Lansley, Andrew
Amess, David Leigh, Edward
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Letwin, Oliver
Arbuthnot, James Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Lidington, David
Baldry, Tony Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Bercow, John Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Beresford, Sir Paul Loughton, Tim
Body, Sir Richard Luff, Peter
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia McCartney, Robert (N Down)
Brady, Graham MacKay, Andrew
Brazier, Julian Maclean, Rt Hon David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter McLoughlin, Patrick
Browning, Mrs Angela Madel, Sir David
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Malins, Humfrey
Burns, Simon Mates, Michael
Cash, William Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Chope, Christopher Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Moss, Malcolm
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Nicholls, Patrick
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Norman, Archie
Ottaway, Richard
Clifton—Brown, Geoffrey Page, Richard
Collins, Tim Paice, James
Cormack, Sir Patrick Paterson, Owen
Curry, Rt Hon David Prior, David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Randall, John
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Day, Stephen Robathan, Andrew
Duncan Alan Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Duncan Smith, Iain Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Evans, Nigel Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Fallon, Michael Ruffley, David
Flight, Howard St Aubyn, Nick
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Sayeed, Jonathan
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Fox, Dr Liam Shepherd, Richard
Fraser, Christopher Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gale, Roger Soames, Nicholas
Garnier, Edward Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Gibb, Nick Spicer, Sir Michael
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Spring, Richard
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Steen, Anthony
Swayne, Desmond
Gray, James Syms, Robert
Greenway, John Tapsell, Sir Peter
Grieve, Dominic Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hammond, Philip Trend, Michael
Hawkins, Nick Tyrie, Andrew
Hayes, John Viggers, Peter
Heald, Oliver Walter, Robert
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David Wardle, Charles
Horam, John Wells, Bowen
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Whittingdale, John
Hunter, Andrew Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Willetts, David
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Woodward, Shaun
Jenkin, Bemard Yeo, Tim
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Key, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Mr. James Cran and
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Mr. Nigel Waterson.

Question accordingly negatived.

7.15 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

I beg to move amendment No. 47, in page 1, leave out lines 11 to 14.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment No. 48, in page 1, line 17, leave out 'and regions'.

Amendment No. 49, in page 1, line 18, leave out 'and the number of regional members'.

Amendment No. 63, in schedule 1, page 53, leave out lines 10 to 14.

Amendment No. 241, in schedule 1, page 53, line 14, leave out sub-paragraph (3).

Amendment No. 64, in schedule 1, page 53, leave out lines 23 to 27.

Amendment No. 65, in schedule 1, page 53, leave out lines 31 to 35.

Amendment No. 66, in schedule 1, page 54, line 1, leave out from beginning to end of line 30 on page 55.

Amendment No. 233, in schedule 1, page 55, leave out lines 1 to 22 and insert— '4. The number of seats for a region shall be that number that is produced when the number of electors in each region is divided by the sum produced by dividing the total electorate in Scotland by 128. 5. The number of regional seats for a region shall be the number of seats allocated to each region by rule 4 above less the number of constituency seats in that region.'.

Amendment No. 50, in clause 4, page 3, line 6, leave out 'or regional members'.

Amendment No. 51, in clause 4, page 3, leave out lines 9 to 37.

No. 120, in clause 4, page 3, line 10, leave out 'or individual candidates'.

Amendment No. 237, in clause 4, page 3, line 25, at end insert— '(e) who does not pay income tax at the rate applicable in Scotland at the time of the general election.'.

Amendment No. 121, in clause 4, page 3, leave out lines 26 to 34.

Amendment No. 238, in clause 4, page 3, line 34, at end add— '(e) who does not pay income tax at the rate applicable in Scotland at the time of the general election.'.

Amendment No. 105, in clause 5, page 3, line 43, after '(a)', insert 'a candidate who is a member of'.

Amendment No. 123, in clause 5, page 4, leave out line 1.

Amendment No. 41, in clause 5, page 4, line 4, at end add— '(4) The names of the candidates on each regional list shall appear on the ballot paper. (5) Electors may select an order of preference for the candidates on the regional lists by placing an appropriate number opposite the name of each candidate, with number 1 indicating the first choice and number 2 indicating the second choice, and so on.'.

Clause 5 stand part.

Clause 6 stand part.

Amendment No. 124, in clause 7, page 4, line 22, leave out 'or individual candidate'.

Amendment No. 125, in clause 7, page 4, line 24, leave out 'or individual candidate'.

Amendment No. 126, in clause 7, page 4, leave out lines 26 and 27.

Amendment No. 129, in clause 7, page 4, line 29, leave out 'the order in which they appear in the list'

and insert 'a manner to be agreed between the parties'.

Amendment No. 106, in clause 7, page 4, line 29, leave out from 'order' to 'except' in line 30 and insert 'of the number of votes cast for the candidates, with the candidate with the highest being elected first and so on'.

Clause 7 stand part.

Amendment No. 128, in clause 9, page 5, line 16, leave out from 'If' to second 'the'.

Amendment No. 107, in clause 9, page 5, line 28, leave out from 'them' to end of line 29 and insert 'received the greater number of votes.'.

Clause 9 stand part.

Amendment No. 56, in clause 10, page 6, line 2, leave out from 'member' to end of line 3.

Amendment No. 57, in clause 11, page 6, leave out lines 39 to 41.

Amendment No. 58, in clause 16, page 8, line 2, leave out 'or region'.

Amendment No. 59, in clause 16, page 8, line 4, leave out 'or region'.

Amendment No. 60, in clause 16, page 8, line 7, leave out 'or region'.

Amendment No. 61, in clause 16, page 8, line 13, leave out 'or region'.

Amendment No. 62, in clause 17, page 8, line 38, leave out 'or region'.

Mr. Heald

The amendments raise important issues relating to representation. Amendment Nos. 47, 48 and 49 would remove all reference in clause 1 to the additional Member system. Amendment No. 63 would delete all reference in schedule 1 to the eight regions, and to the delineation as the eight Euro-constituencies. Amendment Nos. 64, 65 and 66 would remove all reference to the Boundary Commission for Scotland recommending altering the regions, and all reference to the number of regional Members. It would remove any question of the commission producing a report, and all the paraphernalia of inspections, inquiries, reports and giving notice. Amendment Nos. 50 and 51 and 56 to 62 would remove all other references in the Bill to regions and that form of representation.

I suppose that the first question that I must answer is—

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)


Mr. Heald

The Scottish nationalists got there pretty quickly. [Interruption.] I apologise; it was a Liberal Democrat.

The provisions that we hope to amend will create a novel and, I would argue, dangerous situation in regard to representation. First, they create two classes of Member of the Scottish Parliament—those with constituencies, and those without. Secondly, regional Members will be less individually accountable, because they will not have constituents to answer to. Thirdly, there will be differences in the work loads of Members. Fourthly, the public will inevitably be confused about whom they should approach on any particular issue. Finally, it will be difficult for regional Members covering a huge area to have any effective communication with their constituents.

Those arguments have long been held by me, but they are also held by others—notably the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), who now argues for the same propositions in the Government of Wales Bill. He has said:

The AMS system favoured by most PR advocates in the Labour Party would mean two classes of MP, some constituency-based, the others constituency free-loaders chosen from lists and without any constituency responsibilities. However, we are concerned not just with the difficulty of having regional and constituency Members. The Bill goes further. Amendment Nos. 120 and 121 to clause 4, amendment No. 123 to clause 5 and amendment Nos. 124 to 128 are designed to remove the possibility of individuals standing in their own right as regional Members. The problems of having two classes of MSP will be made that much worse if there are three categories-constituency Members, party list Members and individually directly elected regional Members.

What will those Members for the regions be like? First, they will be able to claim personal mandates throughout a region. Secondly, they will be able to meddle in the affairs of any constituency within the region. Thirdly, they will be able to present themselves as a superior form of MSP, almost as senators, because they will cover a larger area and have individual mandates. We shall end up with a system under which MSPs are not equal—and they should be. They should have similar duties and similar representative mandates.

Sir Robert Smith

Where in his list does the hon. Gentleman have an amendment to introduce another form of proportional voting? It would help the Committee if he could tell us about that.

Mr. Heald

It will come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman to hear that that is the last amendment that we would want to introduce, because we do not think that PR provides fair voting. It provides fixed votes, and later in my speech I shall deal with that.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Does the hon. Gentleman not wish the Conservative party to have any representation in the new Scottish Parliament—a wish, I certainly think, that we might well share? Does he not realise that the people of Scotland voted for this package in a referendum and that they clearly understood that this form of PR was on offer? They clearly voted for it.

Mr. Heald

Those who voted in the referendum knew that the Bill would be scrutinised. We have a duty to do that; otherwise, we would not be dealing with the matter in the way that was expected when the referendum took place. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The duty of the Conservative party in Scotland is to fight its case hard and to win seats directly. We admit that we took a terrible drubbing in the general election, but we think that we can come back in Scotland by winning seats in our own right in constituencies. That is the basis of our plea.

Mr. Dalyell

Pursuant to the intervention by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith), may I say that very little was clearly understood by the people of Scotland in that referendum? The great misunderstanding that has now come to light is that, if anything was clear, it was that the Bill would protect them from the poll tax.

Mr. Heald

As usual, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The proposals were sold on the basis that they would protect people from the poll tax. However, we must accept the referendum result. We want to improve the Bill so that the Scottish Parliament will not be a forum for dissension, which the Scottish nationalists could use to drive such a wedge between people in the Union that Scotland might leave it and we could end up with a separatist solution. That would be totally against the interests of Scotland and England and of the other countries in the Union.

An agreement, a marriage, has worked well for many years. The Scottish people have decided to move in the direction of devolution, but that does not mean that there cannot be a Union and that we cannot make it work. We must ensure that the Scottish Parliament is not used by the Scottish nationalists to further their aims. They pretend to be friends of the Parliament, but they see it as a platform from which they will try to destroy the Union. That must be resisted.

Mr. McAllion

I hope that the hon. Gentleman plans to use the Scottish Parliament to pursue the aims of the Conservative party. With that in mind, whom did he consult in the Scottish Conservative party before he tabled amendments that would remove the proportional element of the electoral system?

Mr. Heald

We undertook wide consultations.

Hon. Members

Name them.

Mr. Wallace

I shall save the hon. Gentleman some embarrassment. He has said, as his hon. Friends regularly say, that he accepts the outcome of the referendum and the wish of the Scottish people. Does he accept that in many parts of Scotland, and especially in rural areas such as the borders, Dumfries and Galloway, the highlands and islands and Grampian, one of the key features in getting a yes vote was the proportional system of elections? That is because that system ensures that the Parliament will not be dominated by one party from one part of Scotland. Why does he wish to pluck that proportional system from the Bill?

Mr. Heald

When I was campaigning in Roxburgh and Berwickshire, nobody mentioned that to me.

Amendment Nos. 237 and 238, tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), are designed to ensure that a candidate for the Parliament is an income tax payer at the Scottish rate. I have much sympathy for that argument. It has been said for years that there should be no taxation without representation, and it is appropriate to say that one should not get the chance to be a representative unless one pays the tax. The hon. Gentleman may be concerned that some of his hon. Friends who may be in contention for seats in the Parliament might not meet the requirement at the moment. It is part of the Conservative theme that the requirements for becoming a Scottish Member of Parliament should be the same for everybody and that every Member should have the same standing. That is why we welcome those two amendments.

Clauses 5, 6 and 7 provide for the poll for regional Members and for calculating the regional figures and the allocation of seats. Clause 6(2) provides that the divisor shall be one plus the number of constituency Members elected in the region. I am about to ask the Secretary of State a question, so perhaps he would care to listen. Clause 6(2) is designed to achieve proportionality by reflecting the fact that constituency Members have been elected for one party despite substantial votes for others.

We share the concern that one party might seek to maximise its position by setting up as or using the identity of another. I shall give an example. At one time, the Liberal Democrats formed not one party but two. When I stood against the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), he was described as the Liberal SDP Focus Team Alliance candidate. At that time there were two parties—the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party. If all the constituency seats in the Scottish arrangements were contested by Liberals and none was contested by the SDP, and if all the regional seats were contested by the SDP and none by the Liberals, it would be possible to avoid the mechanism of proportionality in the Bill. I am coming to what is perhaps the more dangerous prospect, because I do not think that the Liberal Democrats will do well.

If Labour fielded constituency candidates and allowed the Co-operative party to field regional candidates, there could be a similar effect. Can the Minister assure the Committee that that is not the plan? [Interruption.] It would have some advantages for Labour party supporters, but it would defeat the whole principle of proportionality that is contained in the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 105 to 107, which were tabled by the Liberal Democrats, amendment No. 41 and our amendment No. 129 relate to the issue of the open list. They raise the question whether it is right to have a closed list that is chosen by the political parties, because huge political patronage could be conferred by placing a candidate as No. 1 on his party's list. The amendments suggest that voters should have the right to decide, and that there should be an open list.

The Conservative party does not support proportional representation. However, we take the view that, if the additional Member system is to be pursued in the Bill and is to become law, it would be right for the Government to consider the open list as their preference. It would at least ensure that Members of the Scottish Parliament had a mandate as individuals.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that the open list, more than any other issue in the debate, poses a danger to the Conservative party? Unless the Conservative party is entirely united and solely either Europhile or Europhobe, there will effectively be two Conservative parties—one Europhile, one Europhobe—competing in Scotland. An open list would simply invite individuals on the list to campaign not against the other parties, but against each other. Not only would that divide parties, but it would most likely confuse the entire electorate.

7.30 pm
Mr. Heald

Although I was kind about the hon. Gentleman's amendments, he is living in the past. The terms that he used—Europhile and Europhobe—went out at least six months ago. [Interruption.] The party is now united behind the policy of the Leader of the Opposition.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) makes an interesting and important point in amendment No. 41. He states that there should be an open list, and that there should be a list of all candidates at the regional level. One of the difficulties with his amendment is that, if one had 10 parties fielding up to 12 candidates each, which is possible, it might be difficult to produce a satisfactory ballot paper. Simply producing for electors a list of 120 or more individuals might be difficult. He should perhaps consider whether, rather than having a ballot paper with a list, the solution might be the one suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) from his experience in Northern Ireland: a list in the polling booth from which voters make their own list.

As I said, proportional representation is not about fair votes but about fixed votes. It is about leading a Government to a situation in which everything must be agreed in a deal. It means that one can have a situation, as in Germany, in which one party—the smaller party—is always in power. The Liberal Democrats' sister party in Germany is always in power, although it receives the support of less than 7 per cent. of voters.

One can have a situation with proportional representation in which the Government change at the whim of the smaller party in a coalition; in which every by-election runs the risk of the Government changing; and in which anyone who crosses the Floor can change the Government's complexion. Later groups of amendments will deal with that point.

Sir Robert Smith

I cannot believe that I am hearing from a Conservative Member how proportional representation will go down in the north-east of Scotland.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman got as far as the borders, but if he had come to the north-east of Scotland, he would have realised that a crucial aspect of the Bill—making the current situation different from that in 1978—is that at its heart is a fair proportional voting system that will protect the regions and avoid domination. It is amazing that he should attempt to strike into my constituents in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine the fear that the majority in Scotland will be eternally dominated by the minority. Does he realise that, although the Labour party has never had a majority of the vote in Scotland, it now holds 56 of 76 seats? Labour would ride roughshod over any other political opinion in Scotland.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Some of the interventions today have been far too long.

Mr. Heald

It is important, above all, that the regions should have a fair voice in the Scottish Parliament—amendment No. 205 directly answers that point. Proportional representation is not the answer. If the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine could explain to me how proportional representation will help his constituents, I should be very grateful.

Sir Robert Smith


Mr. Heald

The hon. Gentleman can do that in his own speech.

Proportional representation does not lead to a transparent system in which one party can stand in an election, make its case to the people, win the election and then pursue its programme. One ends up with anything but fair government, and everything is decided in smoke-filled rooms. That cannot be right, and it cannot be the best form of democracy. Moreover, where proportional representation has been tried, it has failed.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside)

The hon. Gentleman is afraid that, with coalition politics and proportional representation, decisions will be made in smoke-filled rooms. What about the issues that were settled in smoke-filled rooms in the past 20 years, when the Conservatives were in power with the support of 30 per cent. of the electorate, after a one-day vote held every five years?

Mr. Heald

The hon. Gentleman cannot seriously argue that, in the past few years, the Conservative party did not make its case clear to the people in its election manifestos; it certainly did. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] It is all very well for him, a Scottish nationalist, to make the point that he does. However, the effect of having a Parliament with proportional representation, in which the major parties can be held over a barrel by the smaller ones, will be to ensure that the Scottish National party will use it to drive a wedge between Scotland and England and between the other countries in the Union. The effect will be bad for the Union and bad for Scotland.

Opposition Members remain convinced that first past the post, with constituency-based representation, provides the fairest form of government. It is the fairest form of government for the UK and it is the fairest form of government for Scotland. I ask the Committee to support this group of amendments.

Mr. Davidson

I shall speak first to amendment Nos 241 and 233. If we are to have a system that has two types of Members, and if there is to be an element of proportionality, we shall have to try to ensure that the system is as fair as possible. Basing the system on European constituencies is not fair, because those constituencies contain considerably different numbers of electors.

Library figures show that—although they are the most extreme cases—the European constituency in central Scotland has 552,230 electors, whereas the Highlands and Islands constituency has 327,310 electors. Each of those will receive seven top-up seats, effectively assigning 78,000 voters to each Member of central Scotland's top-up list and 46,000 voters to each Member of the Highlands and Islands top-up list. Such a discrepancy is not fair.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he has picked the two extreme examples, and that every seat other than the Highlands and Islands has over 500,000 electors? It seems reasonable that the one seat in Scotland that covers such a vast area should be given proportionately slightly more, because of the huge distances that must be covered. Giving that slight extra edge to the Highlands and Islands does not really disfranchise constituents anywhere else in Scotland.

Mr. Davidson

The hon. Gentleman has picked up some of the points that I had planned on dealing with later. Although he is right to say that I picked the extremes, the difference is not marginal. A representative in the central Scotland European constituency will represent 70 per cent. more electors than a representative from the highlands and islands. Such a large difference is beyond the bounds of what is fair and reasonable.

In amendment No. 233, I propose a different and much fairer system that would entail changes for some of the other constituencies. The central Scotland seat would receive one extra Member, which would give it 10 constituency Members plus eight regional Members. Glasgow—my own area—would keep the same number, which shows that I am not proposing my amendments for parochial reasons. Highlands and Islands would lose three Members, Lothians would gain one, Scotland North East would gain one, and Scotland South and Strathclyde West would remain the same.

Before any hon. Member leaps in to suggest that I am arguing from a party political point of view, I should say that that is not so. Judging by figures from the recent general election—I accept that it is difficult to make the assumption that everyone would vote in exactly the same way, but there is no other basis on which we can move forward—the Liberal Democrats would gain a seat in Scotland Mid and Fife, the Labour party would gain the seat in Lothians and the SNP would gain the seat in Scotland North East. Losers in Highlands and Islands would be Labour, the Conservatives and the SNP. The net result would be the transfer of a seat from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.

That would be a fairer way of electing people. If we want to command the support of people in Scotland, and if all Scots are to feel that they are equally represented in the Scottish Parliament, there must be less discrepancy in constituency sizes.

Sir Robert Smith

Does the hon. Gentleman therefore support the desire to increase the number of electors in his constituency, which is a city constituency, so that, rather than having 20 per cent. fewer electors than my constituency, which is a large rural constituency, there might be some equality?

Mr. Davidson

Constituency sizes must have certain parameters. There has to be a degree of variation. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman laughs. I shall come to the question of Orkney and Shetland. Although there are some extremes, there must be a desire for constituency variations within certain parameters. A difference of 70 per cent. from top to bottom is too much.

The system could be improved to ensure that it is fairer to those involved. On the basis of results at the recent general election, and given the system proposed, the party receiving the largest number of votes in four of the eight Euro-constituencies would not gain a single seat under the top-up mechanism. That effectively means that everybody in that circumstance who votes in the second ballot is wasting their vote because they will not elect another representative.

Let us consider the Euro-constituency of Strathclyde West, where Labour got more than 50 per cent. of the vote. Under the top-up mechanism, the Labour party would not be given another seat. Therefore, more than 50 per cent. of the electorate there would be casting a wasted vote. That cannot be correct under any system.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the system is proposed because the party—in this case, the Labour party—is amply compensated by far more than its fair share of seats in first-past-the-post elections? Therefore, voters who voted Labour have Labour Members of Parliament in abundance.

Mr. Davidson

What you are failing to recognise is that many people will vote for the individual whom they believe will best serve their area. [Interruption.] I accept the tribute to myself. You will remember that I knocked out Jim Sillars in the 1992 general election—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I well remember who the hon. Member knocked out, but he should not draw me into the argument.

Mr. Davidson

As I remember, I was supported in knocking out Jim Sillars by many members of the Scottish National party.

People will vote for an individual representative, and then there will be a separate ballot for regional lists. When more than 50 per cent. of votes cast produce nothing at all, it can only encourage the sort of games described by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), where more than one party runs under the same general banner.

I remember the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), saying on television that proportional representation would mean that parties had to learn new tricks. That suggests the sort of approach described by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire, where the Labour party stands and then the Co-operative party stands for the top-up section. That is what we were invited to consider. Such a new trick arises only because votes in the second ballot would be cancelled by the first ballot.

Mr. Wallace

I did not have that kind of new trick in mind. I had in mind a place like Glasgow, where, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Labour party won every seat under the first-past-the-post system. It would be a completely wasted vote to vote Labour on the regional list, so we shall invite people to vote Liberal Democrat. In fact, I am sure that all our candidates will put his quote on their election addresses, which will say, "It is a wasted vote to vote Labour in the second ballot in Glasgow in the next Scottish parliamentary elections."

7.45 pm
Mr. Davidson

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, because that was not what I said. In fact, on figures for the recent election, we would win another seat in Glasgow. I was referring to the Strathclyde West seat.

Mr. Wallace

indicated dissent.

Mr. Davidson

I was referring to a different constituency altogether. In four of the eight Euro-seats, the parties that gain the most votes will get no other seats in the top-up mechanism, and more than 500,000 votes from a total of 2.5 million cast would be wasted. Labour would lose out in three of those seats. In Highlands and Islands, the Liberal Democrats would lose out, and people would say that there was no point voting Liberal Democrat in the list section.

Particularly in Highlands and Islands, votes are very much cast on the personalities of the candidates. Indeed, in the borders, where I originate, the seat in Galashiels and the surrounding area was held by the Liberal Democrats largely on the basis of personalities—the Tories who were put up were so appalling. [Laughter.] The decision was nothing to do with the merits of the good Member who was elected. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should not distract me.

Where people vote for individuals, they have a right to have their vote in the top-up section seriously considered. That would not happen in Highlands and Islands, and the result would not necessarily be an accurate reflection of what people wanted. My amendments would mean that fewer votes would be wasted; there would be less opportunity for chicanery.

Mr. Morgan

The hon. Gentleman is contradicting himself. In one part of his argument, he is talking about people voting for individual candidates in the firstpast-the-post list, but the rest of his argument depends on people transferring their votes to exactly the same party in the regional list system. His argument does not follow. Surely people who voted for the hon. Gentleman as an individual may vote for another party in the list system. His analysis falls.

Mr. Davidson

One would be aware who is likely to win under the first-past-the-post system. Calculations will have been done; polls will have predicted the carry over. More than 500,000 people out of a total of just over 2.5 million will realise before they cast their vote in the second ballot that they are effectively disfranchised. That is an unnecessarily large proportion.

Amendments Nos. 237 and 238 refer to what I call the Sean Connery clause. It seems necessary to stipulate that anybody who wishes to stand as a candidate should be a taxpayer in some shape or form in this country before standing for election. Similarly, those who want to involve themselves in the affairs of this country should already have some involvement in it. If any hon. Member tabled constructive amendments to ensure that those who are unemployed are also included, I should be quite happy.

Mr. Swinney


Mr. Davidson

I look forward to hearing whether the hon. Gentleman and the SNP believe that tax dodgers—people who have stated that they have gone abroad to avoid paying tax in this country—should be able to participate in our elections as candidates.

Mr. Swinney


The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Before I call the hon. Gentleman for an intervention, I should like to make a comment about interventions. The Committee has agreed to a tight timetable, taking in many amendments, clauses and schedules. Interventions and long speeches will deny hon. Members an opportunity to debate fully the other matters before us this evening. I am in the hands of the Committee.

Mr. Swinney

Thank you, Mr. Martin. I shall be brief. The hon. Gentleman added almost as an afterthought the complication of many low-paid individuals who do not pay taxes being excluded from standing for the Scottish Parliament as a result of his amendment. Has he calculated the number of people who might be affected? The figure may be more than 1.5 million.

Mr. Davidson

Like others, I table probing amendments to clarify the situation. I look forward to hearing whether the Scottish National party believes that people who live abroad to avoid paying taxes in this country should be able to participate fully in democratic elections as candidates, as funders or by doing voice-overs for television broadcasts. It is not appropriate that people who are not willing to pay taxes here should be allowed to participate fully.

Mr. Swinney

The hon. Gentleman asks a serious question. He might like to ask the Chancellor the same question. I remember watching beautiful shots of the Chancellor getting off the "Maid of the Forth" boat at South Queensferry during the referendum campaign with the gentleman at whom the hon. Gentleman is having a go.

Mr. Davidson

Was that a yes or a no? I am unclear whether the hon. Gentleman was saying that tax dodgers should be able to participate in the election or that they should not. His silence speaks for itself.

The proportional representation system being proposed is flawed. I have brought a book from the Library that could guide party leaders on how to select candidates for the top-up section. It is called, "Clone: The Road to Dolly and The Path Ahead". There is a grave danger of the top-up system being used to introduce people who are so on message as to be unbelievable. The Liberal Democrats probably have the greatest difficulty. I understand that Daddy Steel, Mummy Steel and Baby Steel are all coming forward for the elections, as well as the Bell twins. The Liberal Democrats may not have enough members to put up one in every seat. I had thought that only the Conservatives would experience that problem in Scotland.

We should recognise the major disadvantages of domination by central party leaderships over the selection system. If the pitfalls are avoided, the system could be positive for Scotland, but I hae ma doots.

Mr. Kirkwood

I am happy to adhere to your strictures about short contributions, Mr. Martin, because there is a lot of important stuff for the Committee to move on to. We should spend some time on the system of election, which is an important element in the package. The Liberal Democrats subscribed to the constitutional convention's agreement and do not want to breach it, but it is worth considering whether the system can be improved. This may be the only time when we manage sensible, coherent consideration of the issue. We have a duty to examine a system that we hope will stand the test of time and last for many years.

I have not spent as much time on the fine print of the Bill as some hon. Members have. The Bill sets out the initial system of election. What power does the House—or the Scottish Parliament—have should the system require amendment? If changes are deemed necessary by the new Scottish Executive or by political parties north of the border, how can the system that we are enshrining in the Bill be amended? I understand that that is a reserved power and that amendments can be made only in this Parliament. If that is true, we should recognise that.

Even with all the wisdom that we can bring to bear on the issue, we might still get it wrong. We might have to consider the process of election again in the not-too-distant future. That is also relevant to the parallel Bill for Wales, the new system for the European elections and the London elections.

Mr. Wallace

There is a commission as well.

Mr. Kirkwood

There is also a commission on proportional representation. A good deal of consideration is being given to all those important subjects. Who knows whether we shall get it right first time? It is important to keep our minds open and to revisit the issue. It is worth doing what is necessary to achieve a system that people understand and that is simple and coherent across all the different elections. We may have to return to it in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Ancram

I am listening closely to the hon. Gentleman. The Conservatives are also concerned that we may be rushing in to a crystallised system of voting before we have worked out all the ramifications. I said in a debate on the Government of Wales Bill that, while we did not like the additional member system, particularly the top-up list, the open list was more attractive than the closed list. We got nowhere with that suggestion. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has seen amendment No. 129, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) spoke. We suggest that the way in which the candidates from the list are elected should be agreed between the parties. That would give a little more time—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The right hon. Gentleman should be brief.

Mr. Ancram

I shall do my best to be brief. Making this point now may save a little time later on. Would that amendment attract the hon. Gentleman? It would have the merit of giving us more time to get the system right.

Mr. Kirkwood

I am happy to respond to the spirit of that intervention. We have to hasten slowly and ensure that we get it right. The Minister should acknowledge that.

The system is imperfect. In the fulness of time and left to our own devices, we should like a full-blown system of proportional representation with single transferable votes and multi-member constituencies. We could spend a lifetime arguing about the different systems—all with acronyms containing the letter V. That is above my pay grade. However, I know that a pure system of proportional representation has major advantages, one of which is that it forces political parties to agree between elections.

The electorate are disfranchised and disenchanted by our confrontational system of party politics, which is entrenched by first-past-the-post systems. Any system has advantages and disadvantages. We have to be careful even with proportional systems, but it is essential that we should move towards a more consensus-based decision-making and policy-generating system. The system in the Bill is not perfect, but it makes major moves in the right direction. It does not go far enough for us, but it—

Mr. Heald

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

8 pm

Mr. Kirkwood

I must discourage interventions, as I want to be brief.

I have one question for the Government. What do they have against open, as opposed to closed, lists? Contributions from the Scottish National party and the Labour party—certainly the early indications from the official Opposition—suggest that elements from all parties can see the relative merits in the scheme. If we are to have the system proposed by the Bill, the majority of people I have heard outside the House—and the majority of Members who have addressed the Committee tonight—seem to think that an open list is preferable to a closed one, for the perfectly obvious reason that it gives more voter choice and takes control away from the party bureaucracies. It is a quintessentially simple, and essentially democratic, point. I cannot for the life of me see why the Government have set their face against open lists.

I am speaking to amendments Nos. 105 to 107 and I have no intention of pressing those to a Division at the moment. I raise them to put that question squarely to the Government. The system I propose is used in Finland and Denmark for European elections and is simple to understand. It would have the benefit that it could be used in the Welsh, European and London elections, giving it a degree of coherence that otherwise the system may not have. When the Minister winds up, will he spend a moment looking at the amendments and, in particular, state why he is against the idea of open lists?

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

In the interests of brevity, I shall confine most of my remarks to amendment No. 41, standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). The Bill proposes a system of proportional representation. I strongly support the principle of PR, which will be a much fairer system than the existing first-past-the-post system. It will also help to ensure that the Scottish Parliament is more representative of the people of Scotland as a whole and of the diversity of views which exist among them.

The system proposed in the Bill is a hybrid one which causes concern—concern which I have heard expressed outside and inside the House. The Bill proposes that there should be two categories of Members of the Scottish Parliament: first, those elected directly by constituents, and secondly, those elected through regional party lists. There will be constituency Members and what some people may refer to as party hacks. There is concern that the latter may not be as accountable to the people as the former, and that they may consider themselves accountable to the party machine which selected them rather than to the electorate in their area.

Mr. Heald

What is the hon. Gentleman's view on those individuals who can be elected for a whole region as a candidate on their own? Does not that add a third category, to make the system even more confused?

Mr. Canavan

It does, to some extent, but I would speak out in favour of people being allowed to stand as individual or independent candidates. That is an improvement on the White Paper, which excluded that possibility. That matter was debated in the Scottish Constitutional Convention. I know that the hon. Gentleman was not eligible for the convention, but it is a pity that his party boycotted it. Otherwise, it would have heard some interesting debates about these matters.

I argued within the convention for the single transferable vote system. I accept that I lost the argument within the convention, which looked at various models of PR and eventually decided on the additional list system.

My amendment is not absolutely opposed to the proposals of the convention, but would improve them by giving voters more say. I am proposing that the names of all candidates should appear on the ballot paper, allowing the voters, and not the party machine, to decide who is No. 1, No. 10 or No. seven. All candidates would receive some approval from the electorate, and might therefore feel accountable to the electorate, rather than just to their respective parties.

The only serious objection seems to be on the grounds of practicality—that the lists might be too long and the ballot paper therefore too big and unwieldy, which might cause confusion among the electorate. However, I understand that experience from other countries shows that the electorate can become familiar with long lists and big ballot papers.

If my proposals are considered to create some kind of insurmountable problem, surely—at the very least—there should be a requirement for a list of candidates to be displayed in a prominent place in the polling station, so that people will have an opportunity of knowing exactly who they are voting for. I go along with the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) that the people would be able to choose from the list and mark down the candidates they think should be first, second, third and so on. I should be grateful if the Minister will respond to those points constructively when he winds up.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

If the suggestions of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) were adopted, we would have to issue every voter in Scotland with a computer to deal with the size of the ballot paper. One is hesitant to talk in this debate as a Member who represents an English constituency, but I wish to make one point. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) stated a most sensible idea, which everyone concerned with the devolution proposal should think about.

Pollok is the kind of place where one gets a great deal of wisdom. On Thursday of last week, I had the pleasure of entertaining the son of Alec Garrow, a former Member for Pollok, whom I well remember from sitting in this House as a Scottish Member of Parliament. Although he was not one of the people on the Front Bench—one of those who win medals—whenever he said something, it was sound common sense which made people think twice.

The hon. Member for Pollok said that, if we go for this strange system, it will mean that, in a place such as Glasgow—where things have gone wrong since I left—which has a solid Labour tradition, there will be a multitude of single-issue parties. People will go around saying, "By all means vote Labour, but I hope you will give a vote to the battle against cruelty to animals, the battle against crime or for the disabled." That will create a shambles. If we are to have a Scottish Parliament, which seems almost certain, we do not want it to end up in a horrible mess. The Government should try to convince us of the advantage of having a second category of MSPs.

Because of the virtual destruction of democracy, with so much power being taken away from Parliament, most of us spend our time looking after constituents' interests. Imagine the position of Scottish representatives, representing an area and doing everything in their power to assist its people, working with local authorities on big issues such as whether there should be a housing development or an airport extension, and then finding that these strange list people suddenly descend on the place and take a different view.

How on earth would a Member feel if he was fighting a battle for his constituency and one of these strange people, who do not represent a constituency but claim to speak for an area as part of the region, came along and met all the representatives and delegations and gave a totally different message?

The list candidates would almost certainly be of a different party from those who represent constituents directly. I hope that Ministers appreciate the nightmare that will be created for MSPs. In Britain, there has always been a strong bond between the Member of Parliament and the constituents, who can put Members out if they do not approve of what they have done. We are creating a situation in which, instead of only one person, a small army of people will be able to claim the right to represent constituents.

It would be an outrage to have one category of MSPs who do all the constituency work and another who do no direct work but who interfere from time to time in what they regard as issues of interest.

Sir Robert Smith

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, under the present system, people in Scotland chose representatives who back the system on offer in the Bill, albeit with minor modifications, and that that system was set out in the White Paper that was the basis of the referendum, which they also accepted?

Sir Teddy Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is more of an expert in Scotland than I am, but I spoke to many of my friends who voted in the referendum, and I can assure him that people do not consider the cold, logical definitions in a White Paper.

Two of my friends who have always been against devolution decided to vote yes; I asked them why, but I found it difficult to establish their reasons. I think that they had the feeling that there was a need to fly a flag. They certainly did not consider the precise representative system on offer. People do not necessarily vote on the basis of carefully thought out ideas, and nobody voted yes in the referendum because they approved of the list system.

My final point is not a silly one. Do hon. Members honestly think that the system will make the Scottish Parliament a better parliament? If there are all these different groups, the minority parties, which we are not used to having in a democratic parliament, will almost certainly effectively run the show.

If hon. Members have any doubts about that, let them look around the world. The country with the most highly developed system of proportional representation is Israel, which faces many problems. One of its big problems is the electoral system, under which unusual and sometimes extreme parties hold the balance of power, so the larger parties find it extremely difficult to implement the right policies and ensure that the right thing is done.

Why on earth do the Government want to do this? A Scottish Parliament is something entirely new in our system of government, and it will have many problems to face. Why give it this additional problem to cope with? The system will not be a boost. The only argument that I have heard for it so far is that it will somehow help the Conservative party. It certainly will not, and it will not help the people of Scotland if we have a shambles in which there are two categories of Member, each suspicious of the other.

The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) works hard for her constituents. How would she feel if five or six list Members, representing other parties, started to come into her constituency and offer their opinions? The system will create a total shambles.

We wish the Scottish Parliament well, because people voted for it; but let us not make the situation unduly difficult and complicated. I hope that Government Members will listen to the wise words of the hon. Member for Pollok, and think about the need not to make a complex, difficult problem even more complex and difficult, because the only people who will suffer will be the people of Scotland.

I hope that we will not let Scotland down. We are supposed to consider a huge number of amendments before 10 pm, but it simply cannot be done. If we are letting the people of Scotland down in any way, it is by not giving adequate time for discussion of these important issues.

8.15 pm
Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) made a persuasive case, and should he by any chance press amendment No. 41 to a vote, he will have my support.

I want to ask a question that owes a great deal to discussions with, and reading the writings of, Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government at Oxford university, who takes a very different view of devolution. Coalition government creates special problems for fixed-term parliaments. What happens if there is a change of party alignment? It would be very difficult to bring about a dissolution if there was a stalemate. There would, in fact, be no effective government.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State understandably says that we do not want tactical dissolutions, but, given the problem, is there not an argument for a first-past-the-post system, which can at least punish politicians at the polls, as is the right of an electorate? Is there not a special problem for coalition government in the circumstances of fixed-term parliaments that would be brought about by the Bill?

Mr. Shepherd

I concur with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor).

Clause 9 concerns the situation when a regional seat becomes vacant, and sets out the conditions whereby the next person on the party's regional list automatically takes up the seat. That is a profoundly objectionable idea. Most of the electors in the large regional constituencies will not know who the individual is—that is a criticism of the list system in general—so there will be no possible connection there.

As became clear with the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, there is genuine concern that, where a party is assured two seats, its two candidates need not even campaign, because they are guaranteed to be returned. The two in the middle of the list would probably struggle around the constituency seeking election, and the rest need not participate in the election at all. Under clause 9, if the Government insist on it, we will accept that an unknown individual, who may not even have canvassed or put his case at an election, will be drafted into a seat automatically.

An important element in the history of elections in this country is that by-elections are often the barometers that register public opinion, which can then influence the nature of government. Indeed, the history of by-elections is often a drumbeat to remind Governments of how unpopular they are.

At the last election, we sought courage and strength that there would be a turning. This is a decisive break with the past. There is no reason why an anonymous candidate, unknown to the electorate when circumstances have changed, should be drafted into a seat. That is the most undemocratic circumstance that I can think of. I urge the Government carefully to examine that. It is just a matter of reflection. There is no reason why, when a vacancy comes up, there cannot be an election across the region, if that is the form by which the Government wish to hold.

I urge my party, in its considerations on these matters—they have come up in the context of Wales, they will come up in the Committee proceedings on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill—to reflect that the concept of drafting in an unknown man or woman who does not reflect the general will or wishes of the region they are to represent is unacceptable in a democracy.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

I begin by congratulating the Government on proposing the electoral system that amendment No. 47 seeks to scrap. It is a good attempt at proportional representation. It will help democracy. It will give some representation to the Conservative party in Scotland. One of the bad effects of the last election was that no Conservative Members were elected there. There is a body of the electorate that wishes to vote Conservative. That does democracy no good whatever, although at the time it seemed to bring great joy to most of the people in Scotland. The introduction of PR may lead on to the tackling of the problem in local government in Scotland and elsewhere.

Other problems have not been tackled by amendments. Contrary to what other hon. Members have said, I do not think that there are enough top-up seats in the system. The limits that we have placed are not guaranteed to ensure proportionality. There will still be a bias towards the party that wins most seats under the first-past-the-post system, which is at present the Labour party. That problem will be exacerbated by a later clause, which will reduce the total number of seats and top-up seats. That will worsen the lack of proportionality. I hope that that can be dealt with later.

I shall briefly touch on some of the other amendments in this group, especially those tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson). One would scrap the seven regional top-up seats. As I said earlier, only the highlands and islands regional seat has disproportionate representation; the other regional seats are more or less equal. The hon. Gentleman ignored argument and the creation of fear that was used by those people who seek to use the divide and rule argument to set the Scottish people against each other. That is the main reason why we need to ensure that we give adequate representation to all the geographical regions in Scotland.

It was a powerful argument for a Scottish Parliament in the south of Scotland that I could say, "Look, in the Scottish Parliament, you in the south of Scotland will have some 15 Members out of 129. You will have far more influence in the Scottish Parliament than you will ever have through half a dozen Members down in Westminster."

Mr. Davidson

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that I said that the method I suggested would make no difference whatever to the south of Scotland?

Mr. Morgan

Yes, I took that point, but the argument applies to the highlands and islands. Certainly, in 1979, it was a weapon used powerfully in the highlands and islands to increase the anti-devolution vote. That vote was much smaller this time, precisely because people were assured that the concentration of power in the central belt would not occur.

Amendments Nos. 237 and 238 would restrict candidates to taxpayers. I understand that artists and actors who have earnings in this country pay tax on them here regardless of whether they are resident in Britain. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that fact.

Before I heard from the hon. Gentleman that the amendments were probing amendments, and knowing that he did not wish to disfranchise about 40 per cent. of his constituents, I speculated that he knew something about the rate at which Labour's new minimum wage would be set. I assumed that it would be set at a rate higher than that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer wished, but that the amendment would none the less enfranchise everyone in Scotland.

I am puzzled by Tory amendment No. 123 and subsequent amendments. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) spoke about the importance of individuals, but then sought to remove the capability of individuals to stand in the regional list part of the election. It seems to me that any individual who is good enough not only to stand but to get elected from a regional list is a fairly talented individual, and deserves to win his seat.

Mr. Ancram

I am concerned about this point. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Does he think that that individual who wins the regional seat will be superior to any of the other Members of the Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Morgan

I did not imply that he was superior in terms of what he could do in the Parliament. I merely said that he must be an excellent candidate to win such a seat, and that such people should be given the opportunity to do so.

There is no such thing as the perfect electoral system—every system will have anomalies—but we have to recognise that the current system is collapsing under the weight of its inadequacies. It is being scrapped bit by bit throughout these isles. It is being scrapped in Northern Ireland for European and local elections. It is being scrapped for European elections. We ar now scrapping it for elections to the Scottish Parliament. I believe that soon it will be scrapped for elections to Westminster. I shall certainly vote against amendment No. 47.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). I support the first-past-the-post system because I believe that it is the best system and that it makes Parliament more effective. The advantage is direct accountability to the electorate: individuals represent a geographical area and, if people have problems, they go to their local Member of Parliament.

One of the best things about this place is the convention that Members deal only with their own constituents. That saves a great deal of work. It saves us falling over each other's feet. That will not happen in Scotland. The average elector will have a Member of the European Parliament—although the electoral system for that is to change—a Member of Parliament, a Member of the Scottish Parliament elected geographically and seven other Members of the Scottish Parliament. People will be falling over each other to take up constituency cases. As different political parties will be represented, there will be great confusion and difficulty. The local government officer, Benefits Agency officer or Child Support Agency officer who deals with an individual will have to deal with half a dozen representatives rather than one.

Mr. Laurence Robertson

My hon. Friend says that under the new system Members of Parliament could be falling over each other to help constituents, but surely it could work the other way: they could easily pass the buck.

Mr. Syms

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It could be difficult for a constituent to find out who is dealing with his problem. Some constituents would no doubt write to every representative in turn, until they got the right answer. That is not a recipe for effective administration in Scotland.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) who made a point about there being two types of Members of Parliament. People will inevitably go to the geographically elected constituency Member, giving those on the regional list an easier ride. That will cause great difficulty. He is perfectly right when he talks about odds and sods standing for the regional list. One can think of the dog lovers party, the Glasgow Rangers supporters party and the anti-airports party. Various people may pop up, especially individuals with deep pockets who can form political parties with their friends, as we have seen in recent elections.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

Does the hon. Gentleman not recall that some odd individuals and parties stood at the last election under the first-past-the-post system?

Mr. Syms

That is true, but most had only minority support and so were not elected. For example, the Referendum party failed abysmally to achieve representation. The list system will lead to the representation of odds and sods, causing difficulties and strain within the system.

I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) had to say about the list system. Under our system, a person is nominated for an election campaign and if he or she does not win, that is it. Under the list system, a person is nominated and stays on the list for four years. That could cause difficulties if individual circumstances changed.

8.30 pm

Overall, the additional member system is bad. In Germany, changes in Government tend to be the result of changes in alliances of political parties rather than changes in what the electorate want, and that is not a good thing.

Under the first-past-the-post system, the members of a party coalesce before the election, agree a platform, stand, and obtain a result, and the majority party is accountable to the people for what it does. If it does not do what it said it would do or is perceived to have done a bad job, it is thrown out.

The best thing about the first-past-the-post system, certainly under our system, is that occasionally furniture vans turn up at No. 10 and there is a change of Government. That is something that the British people can do. The Scottish Parliament may experience the problem of parties changing alliances rather than reflecting changes in the electorate.

Overall, the system proposed is not the best one for Scotland. The first-past-the-post system would be better.

Mr. Dalyell

If parties change alliances, special problems arise from fixed-term Parliaments.

Mr. Syms

I agree. That is a special problem. Elections resolve political problems. They are not always the cause of political problems. Like all democrats, we must face elections, giving the electorate the opportunity to resolve a particular political impasse.

Sir Robert Smith

The hon. Gentleman says that he wants to vote against the proposed system because he does not believe that it is in the best interests of the Scottish people. Is he not interested in the fact that the Scottish people have elected people to represent them who favour that system on their behalf and are promoting it? Why does not the hon. Gentleman accept that, since the method applies only to Scotland, he should listen to the Scottish people and allow them to have the electoral system that they want?

Mr. Syms

This is the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This is Scotland's Parliament.

We are discussing an important issue. It would be better to have a system with the accountability that I have set out. That would serve Scotland better in following the course that the Scottish people have decided they wish to follow. The proposed system will not be helpful.

I have reservations about open lists, even under the Conservative party's amendment. Many people are trying to make an unacceptable system more acceptable by somehow allowing greater electoral choice. If there are seven-member regions and each party puts up seven members or more, as is likely, there could be lists of 20, 30 or 40 people. How do the electorate differentiate? Do those who vote Conservative have to assess one to seven or one to 12 candidates for the Conservatives, or does the electorate list all the candidates from one to 30 or 35? That is another way of doing it. There will be complications.

The good electors of Washington state in the United States who, under the American system, sometimes face 20 or 30 different elections, used to put out a pamphlet paid for by the taxpayer informing the public who was standing for what in the various categories. If we went to an open list system we would have to do something similar in order to inform people about the 30 or 40 choices. That is not practical. It would be asking too much of the average elector to distinguish between so many different candidates, particularly as some candidates would not be known and would have no political record. Overall, the system would weaken the Parliament.

Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian)

The hon. Gentleman has not dealt with the problem of a minority group putting into power a majority Government. Britain has not had a majority Government for a long time. That is one of the problems that we are talking about. I am for the system. It may not be perfect and it may cause problems, but a minority Government with a massive majority, of the kind that we have seen in the past, is a big problem.

Mr. Syms

The point is that a Government should be not only representative but effective. At the end of the day, we cannot have a wholly proportionate system because we would not have decisions; we would not have a system which worked. The first-past-the-post system is proportionate and does work well when two parties stand.

Sir Robert Smith

Had the hon. Gentleman observed the Scottish Grand Committee meeting the other day, he would have seen how disproportionate the current system is in Scotland. We have a four-party political system, and it cannot cope. We have 56 Scottish Labour Members of Parliament out of a total of 72. The farmers of Scotland do not have a fair voice from their rural constituencies.

Mr. Syms

The Scottish electorate knew what they were doing. They had a choice and, unfortunately for the Conservative party, they did not make the right choice, voting in many instances against, rather than for, Conservative candidates. I accept the system, however, and I support it in principle. I accepted it when we won and I accepted it when we lost. I have been as consistent as those hon. Members who argue for the single transferable vote, as they have done for donkeys years, honourably, although I think wrongly.

I support what I believe to be the best and most effective system. It is also the most consistent system within the UK. It is the system that we use currently, and, I hope, will use in the future for parliamentary elections. Overall, it would strengthen the system because it would result in a more effective and accountable Administration. What is proposed will not solve the problems, so I shall support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Martin. We see on the annunciator that there is to be a statement on the channel tunnel at 10 o'clock. I do not know what its content can be, but how does it affect the voting on this measure?

The First Deputy Chairman

The voting will be completed first. The statement will take place after the voting.

Mr. Laurence Robertson

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), who has studied proportional representation a great deal. I listened closely to what he had to say.

A few days ago, I caused some hilarity when, speaking on the Government of Wales Bill, I described a number of systems being introduced as somewhat alien to the British constitution and the British people. That is basically why I object to much of the Bill. It introduces devolved government and more than one Parliament into one United Kingdom. In addition, to stick to the point, it introduces another voting system which has not been experienced by the British people. It has been experienced to some extent in Northern Ireland, but not in Britain. It is a mixed system, to which I object because it will lead to confusion.

I want to speak briefly against the proportional representation system of voting, because it is an undemocratic system. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, it leads to government by secret deals. In a PR system, it is not the electorate who decide the Government. A few minutes ago, the Committee was asked whether it was fair for a party that gets 40 per cent. of the vote to form the Government—and a case could be made that that is not fair; but I would stress that it is far fairer than a party which gets 5 per cent. of the vote deciding who forms the Government; and, under a PR system, such a party can indeed take that decision. The present system is not perfect, but it is the best one available.

PR might lead to a direct ratio between the proportion of votes and the number of seats that a party has, but that is only fair if one looks at the whole area. In individual constituencies it is fair that the candidate who gets the highest number of votes should represent that constituency. It is worth reminding ourselves that it is individual constituencies that form the constitution of this country, so not only are two Parliaments in one country somewhat inconsistent with the constitution and a major change to it, but a change in the voting system to a PR system is, too. Some hon. Members might prefer that, but many do not.

Mr. Gorrie

It is a matter of fact that, in the period since 1707, there were multi-member constituencies for longer than there have been single-member constituencies.

Mr. Robertson

I would not dispute the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of this matter.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Poole. Actually, I made the point that it would be easy in those circumstances for Members to pass the buck to someone else; if a difficult issue arose, it would be easy for one Member to ignore it and let another deal with it. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole made the opposite case, and said that Members would be falling over one another to deal with issues that they particularly wanted to address.

One of my main objections to PR is that it would break the link between the constituency and the Member. That link is respected by constituents; it is respected in this place and reflected in the way we run this place; and it is respected by Members of Parliament themselves. The system whereby one Member represents one constituency motivates Members of Parliament to a great degree. It is clear to constituents whom they should write to with problems; it is clear who they can depend on; it is clear who they are voting for; and it is clear who will represent them. For those reasons, people like the link between the Member of Parliament and the constituency.

Looking at it negatively, it is fair to say that people would dislike the way in which party politics would be exercised in a voting system that was dependent on proportional representation. I do not think that they much like the exercise of party politics in the current system, but a PR system would cause polarisation, and people would not like a system wholly governed by party politics. I say this rather nervously, given the presence of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but I think that people dislike the whipping system to some extent. In a PR system, there would be even more of what people do not like and very little of what they do like. People want individuals to represent them—individuals with whom they can identify and who can be blamed if things go wrong.

I also have fears about accountability: Members of Parliament should be accountable to their constituents, but under PR they have to be accountable to those compiling the list. They would serve those compiling the list, because their jobs would depend on their doing so. That would not be good for democracy. In our previous debate, several hon. Members rightly pointed out that sovereignty rests with the people. I entirely agree with that, but under a PR system, sovereignty would rest with the few, not the many—and certainly not with the electorate.

Those are my basic objections to the PR system. I conclude by saying that PR will lead to yet another change in the sense that political parties will henceforth have to be registered, which will turn them into some sort of constitutional body, which they currently are not. That goes against what people actually want to happen and could lead to a host of undesirable constitutional changes.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk)

I shall be brief. I speak with some reticence, because I have no links with Scotland; but it is in the interests of people of all parties in all parts of the United Kingdom that the Scottish Parliament is a success. I also speak in the knowledge that we are speaking against something that would be good for Conservatives in Scotland, so our opposition to proportional representation is principled and not born of expediency.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prior

Not for a minute, no.

I wish to make only four points. Having been a Member of Parliament for slightly more than eight months, I—like all hon. Members—am aware of the importance of the link between Members of Parliament and their constituencies. It is not a party political link; a Member represents all parts of his or her constituency and all sorts of people. If that link is broken, as it will be broken in Scotland, it will be a great shame for the new Parliament.

8.45 pm

Secondly, most ordinary people are pretty unhappy about the degree of control of Members by their parties. The perception in Scotland will be, perhaps especially in the Labour party, that greater control will be given to the parties over Members. That is not a good thing.

Thirdly, and penultimately, although on the surface proportional representation may seem fair, in practice, as a result of coalitions between various parties, the outcome can often lead to the smallest party having a disproportionate amount of influence. That cannot be good for democracy. For example, in New Zealand, which has recently introduced a PR system, the smallest party ended up having the most influence on which party formed the Government. There have been many surveys since New Zealand changed its voting system, and they showed that there has been a switch in what the people would like.

Fourthly, it is not good for the United Kingdom to have two separate, distinct and different electoral systems working side by side. I do not know what Opposition Members felt about the previous debate, but I was not convinced that Labour Members were showing the commitment to the Union that I thought they were before the general election. Two separate electoral systems cannot be good for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Swayne

I shall endeavour to follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) because I wish to be brief in speaking to amendments Nos. 63 to 66. In so doing, I shall not state my principal objections to the system that is to be introduced, because I feel that I dealt with them thoroughly on Second Reading. It would not be appropriate to bring those issues before the Committee.

There are inherent weaknesses in the proposed system. First, those who have designed the system have decided on the result that they wish the elections to deliver. They have then gone about designing a system to deliver that result. They have decided that there is to be a new, consensual politics. Accordingly, they have designed a voting system that enforces consensus.

The system is to be gender-balanced. Allegedly, that will make the system even more consensual. Apart from that fatuous nonsense, the proposals play into the hands of the greatest weakness of the Bill, which is that it relies on an abundance of good will. The voting system requires that the parties shall work together to produce consensus.

The problem is that there will be an absence of good will because of the human condition—the fact of original sin. More appropriately, there will be a lack of good will because the Scottish National party will set out to ensure that there are disputes so that it can profit by them. That is the principal difficulty.

A further difficulty is the sheer complexity of the voting system that is being introduced. People understand the quirks, the weaknesses, the strengths and, above all, the absolute simplicity of our existing voting system. All it requires is a cross to be made on a ballot paper. Under the proposed system, the voter will have two votes. The first will be simple enough, but the second will require the use of the d'Hondt formula.

The d'Hondt formula works by allocating additional seats at each stage to the party with the highest total after dividing the total number of list votes they won across the Euro seat by the total (constituency + list) seats they have plus one. I wonder what the voter will make of that. Nothing could be calculated to give greater dissatisfaction to the voters than the fact that they cannot understand how their representatives were elected.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

First, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the d'Hondt formula will be used by a returning officer—not by each individual voter, who is meant simply to place a cross on the ballot paper? Secondly, given that the Federal Republic of Germany uses a very similar system, is he saying that the Germans are much more intelligent than the people of Scotland?

Mr. Swayne

I confirm the first point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I am quite at ease with the fact that the voter does not need to understand the complexity of the d'Hondt formula, but that is precisely the system's weakness. The voter is not considered in the allocation of votes to secure his representative. The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to the weakness of the system. In that respect, I would refer him to my remarks on Second Reading, to spare the Committee my repeating them.

Mr. Eric Clarke

I support proportional representation and democracy. I know of no nation that has come out of the one-party system since the breakdown of the iron curtain that has taken up the first-past-the-post system. You name me one—not you, Mr. Martin, but someone name me one. To my knowledge, they have all opted for the PR system proposed in the Bill, or another PR system.

Mr. Ancram

It may not have been behind the iron curtain, but the hon. Gentleman might like to comment on the fact that Italy, having for many years had a proportional representation system—and myriad Governments as a result—is now moving toward the first-past-the-post system.

Mr. Clarke

Well, that is up to Italy. I am not in this place to ask what Italy is doing. I am talking about people who had a one-party system. They had a multitude of ethnic minorities and a host of other differences. As hon. Members know, they divided into different sections and different countries—independent and otherwise—and they all went for proportional representation.

I do not underestimate the intelligence of the Scottish people. In the American system, people vote for everyone from the sheriff to the state legislature and so on, in a huge list. It is a bit of an exaggeration to say that that is the type of thing that we shall put before the Scottish people. The ballot paper for the Scottish Parliament will not be as complicated as that.

No one has mentioned the fact that thousands of people out there do not vote. Why do they not vote? They do not vote because they do not believe that their vote will count, because they live in an area that is dominated by one party or the other and they believe that the system is a waste of time. They do not vote because of apathy.

Mr. Heald

How many times when the hon. Gentleman has been canvassing has a person said, "I am not voting because I want proportional representation"? Never.

Mr. Clarke

Well, it was not on the agenda then, but it was on the agenda following the constitutional convention and our liaison with other people for the referendum in Scotland. We should like to ensure a balance of men and women in the Scottish Parliament if it is legally possible; we would do that as a party, whether or not it was done constitutionally. If we did so, a far better situation would arise than exists in this place, because even the gender balance in this place is all wrong. I do not think that I am a male chauvinist idiot; all my life I have voted for the emancipation of women. I am not apologising for that. I am in favour of positive discrimination.

One of our arguments in support of the referendum concerned the geography of Scotland and the dominance of the urban areas. People in the north, in the islands and elsewhere feel isolated. The area is huge, and some communities are closer to Norway or Denmark than to London. Some people asked what difference it would make if the Parliament were in Edinburgh. It must be explained to them that they will have proper proportional representation. Ethnic minorities and other groups can be represented through PR, in the same way as people from small hamlets and those in urban areas.

We are speaking about democracy. In my intervention, I asked how a massive majority in Parliament could be justified on the basis of a minority vote. That is what has happened in the past, because of apathy, geographical carve-ups, and so on. Many of my colleagues support the first-past-the-post system, because they won. If they did not win now and again, perhaps some of them would think twice.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Now and again? Eighteen years.

Mr. Clarke

Overall, we did not win for 18 years, but I am talking about individual cases.

The new electoral system is a necessity. It may not be ideal and may not suit everybody, but it is certainly a step forward.

Sir Robert Smith

I shall answer the question from the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) about how proportional representation was brought up during the referendum, and how the proposed electoral system became crucial to the decision this time, as opposed to the decision back in 1979.

Mr. Heald

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but that was not the question I asked. I do not want a history lesson. I want to know how the electoral system will help his constituents.

Sir Robert Smith

The matter played a crucial part in the referendum because of the way in which it would help constituents. The press and the public constantly raised the issue of the north-east being disfranchised by a Scottish Parliament and dominated by the central belt and the Labour party.

There are Labour Members who have long stood for reform of the electoral system. Why would a party that could gain a huge majority of the seats in a Scottish Parliament offer the electorate a system under which, barring strange political eventualities, its chances of getting a majority are almost completely removed? The Labour party has accepted a major change in the system. Some say that it is because they are nice Labour people, but behind it all is the recognition that selling the Scottish Parliament as an effective working system to represent the whole of Scotland would require proportional representation.

The change helps my constituents because it ensures that they will have a far greater voice in that Parliament. If the hon. Gentleman had observed the Grand Committee when we were debating agriculture, he would understand why the farmers in my constituency want far more Members representing agricultural seats, and more parties that support agriculture.

Under the present system, the Parliament would be dominated by the Labour party—the one party which comes predominantly from the central and urban areas of Scotland. The other parties in Scotland—the Conservative party, the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrat party have roots outwith the urban areas. All those parties would have increased representation in that Parliament, thus making sure that a greater voice was heard from throughout Scotland.

Mr. Davidson

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, when the Liberal party stands in Glasgow, it stands as a rural party? Surely it does not. If the Liberal party stands in Glasgow, it stands on behalf of the interests of the people there, just as, when the Labour party stands in the north-east or the south, it fights for the interests of the people there. People recognise that in those areas, which is why they elected Labour Members in increasing numbers.

Sir Robert Smith

There is a disproportionate dominance within policy making and thinking. There must be some reason why the Labour Government are not listening to the plight of farmers in my constituency. One of the problems is that there are not enough Labour Members of Parliament from rural constituencies to influence policy making.

Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber)

What is the hon. Gentleman's policy on the funicular rail link? I understand that he has asked questions about it, and it affects my constituency. I remember that, during the election, my Liberal Democrat opponent supported the funicular. It now appears that you are now opposing it. What is the Liberal Democrat policy?

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. Hon. Members should be careful about using the word "you", because it draws me into the argument. I have no axe to grind in the Chair.

9 pm

Sir Robert Smith

I wish to concentrate on the issues before us. I will meet the hon. Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber later to discuss the particular issue that he raised.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman help me? It is very important.

Sir Robert Smith

I shall take one final intervention.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I am grateful. The hon. Gentleman has taught us a great deal about the Scottish Parliament. What does he believe his party can do for agricultural policy through the Scottish Parliament? The people of Scotland are entitled to know.

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. We are not dealing with agricultural policy in these amendments, but perhaps we will some other time.

Sir Robert Smith

I shall bring my remarks to a close before we stray into all sorts of different directions.

Dr. Fox


Sir Robert Smith

Front Benchers will presumably wind up at some point, so the hon. Gentleman can make his point then.

I shall finish on some of the points that were raised in the debate—in particular, that we should ensure that people's voices can be heard. I hope that the Government will recognise that the system would be improved if the lists were opened up to the electorate, to order the people on the list within the party of their choice.

When the Conservative spokesman winds up, I want to know whether the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) represents the Conservative party in its desire to abolish any different electoral systems in Northern Ireland, as he argued that we should not have a different system in Scotland.

Above all—I return to the crucial point—I want to know whether Conservative Members accept the first-past-the-post system and accept that, in Scotland, the vast majority of Members who were elected to represent Scottish constituencies, where this Parliament will be effective, were elected to produce a new and fairer system of election, a system that will ensure that all voices and all spreads of opinion will be fully heard in the Scottish Parliament. I urge the House to reject resoundingly these wrecking amendments, which rip the heart out of the proposal that was put before the people of Scotland in the referendum.

Mr. McLeish

I am pleased to respond on behalf of the Government in relation to the amendments that we have discussed on elections, in particular the regional list.

I shall curtail my comments, as part of the exercise is to allow the Opposition the maximum time to participate; we have a tight schedule according to the business resolution.

The point was made about fairness. That is what this is about. We have had a measured, good-hearted debate. The key issue of fairness should always be uppermost in our consideration. The Government are taking a decision that has no party advantage for us. The Conservatives said that they were fighting on a point of principle, not practicalities, but when the elections loom, the issue of practicalities in Scotland will be important. We have no party advantage to obtain. It is important to say that, because we are pursuing a form of proportional representation to ensure fairness. It is a new Parliament; there should be a new politics. Much of the comment has dismissed that notion, but we owe it to the people of Scotland, and we are embracing change.

Apart from being fair, the system is trying to reach out to all parts of Scotland and to all the parties in Scotland. I urge the Conservatives to consider the beneficial effects of the changes that we are making, because, as I shall show later, those effects are substantial. Within the parameters of 1 May last year, the Conservative party had no representation under the first-past-the-post system, but it will have substantial representation in the new Parliament, even if it does not win a first-past-the-post seat. That is a political advantage for the Conservatives.

I shall deal first with amendments Nos. 47 to 49, 63, 241 and 64 to 66. The Government will create the Scottish Parliament with 129 Members elected by means of a combination of the simple majority system and the additional member system of proportional representation. That will deliver a Parliament that reflects a broad range of political views, in line with the commitment given in the White Paper.

The referendum result was a ringing endorsement, and it is wrong for Conservatives to say that people did not understand what they were voting for. We have had a long discussion about the sovereignty of the people, the foundation of which is to trust the people. It does not befit hon. Members to try to suggest that the people of Scotland made a decision that was flawed in terms of the final outcome.

The Government will ask the Committee to reject the amendments that I have just mentioned. Those tabled by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and his hon. Friends reflect the Conservatives' dislike of the idea of proportional representation, despite the fact that, according to our projections, the Conservative party could win some 20 seats in the Scottish Parliament, which is a vast improvement on its Scottish representation in this House.

It is worth reminding the Committee that the purpose of the regional Member system in the Bill is to reduce the imbalance in political representation that can arise when one depends solely on the simple majority system at elections. The winner-takes-all aspect of the simple majority system means that a party can secure a significant number of votes but have no seats. As a result, the electorate can feel disfranchised and distanced from Parliament, because they feel that no one reflects their views. That should be a genuine consideration for the Conservatives, some of whom feel that they should be represented in the House. We believe that that should be the case, because some voters in Scotland feel great distance between the House and their activities. The proportional representation system that we suggest will benefit them enormously.

The result on 1 May brought into sharp focus the need for major change to the voting system in Scotland. Any Parliament interested in democracy cannot sustain the fact that 500,000 votes went unrepresented in the House. The electoral arrangements for the Scottish Parliament will ensure a fairer balance of representation than would be achieved by reliance on the simple majority system. While constituency seats will be contested in the traditional manner, regional seats will be allocated on the basis of proportional representation, but with a corrective element. Taken together, those systems should achieve a much fairer distribution of seats.

The system for returning regional Members is complex, but the voting process is relatively straightforward. Each elector will be able to vote for a constituency candidate and cast a separate regional vote for the party or independent candidate he or she favours.

The proposal in amendment No. 41, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), appears to be derived from the single transferable vote system, which is complex to operate in isolation. It would be even more complicated to operate in the system that we propose for returning regional Members. At a time of numerous changes to electoral systems, we need to make life as easy as possible for the electorate, and the amendment would simply complicate matters. I therefore ask my hon. Friend not to press his amendment.

Mr. Canavan

Would my hon. Friend consider the compromise of a rule whereby all party lists were prominently displayed in the polling stations?

Mr. McLeish

I was about to make that very point. It is a valid suggestion, and we are considering how best the names on the lists could be publicised. It is important to make that link, and I am happy to take my hon. Friend's suggestion on board.

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have commented on the new system. They will have received the notes on clauses and schedules, which show how the new system would work under clause 7. An example within the North-East Scotland European parliamentary constituency is based on votes cast in the parliamentary constituencies at the 1 May election. It takes no account of independents at this stage. The results on a first-past-the-post system were five Labour Members, two Liberal Democrats, two SNP Members and no Conservatives. Under the system that we recommend, and on the assumption that the vote on 1 May was replicated, the result would be five seats to Labour, which is no change, three to the Liberal Democrats, which is an increase of one, the SNP would increase its seats from two to four, and the Conservatives would have four seats instead of zero.

That shows the impact that such a system can have, although it is not necessarily a selling point for Conservative Members. The details of that practical example show the merits of a fairer system, which would be reflected in other parts of Scotland.

I do not agree with the suggestion that regional Members are second-class because they have not been returned in a constituency election. That is not a valid assumption. The lists will comprise people who want to make a contribution to the Parliament, and will be scrutinised more than any other lists for elections since the war. I believe that the parties will nominate good-quality candidates in the constituencies and on the regional lists if they want to maximise the number of seats that they secure.

Dr. Fox

The Minister said that regional lists would help to make up the democratic deficit. Does he accept that if lists are closed to the electorate and people have no say over who is on them and in what order, the democratic deficit will not be made up? At a time when the Labour party's internal discipline makes the Moonies look like a civil rights movement, it is hardly reassuring to the electorate that they will not have a say. Will the Minister, even at this stage, reconsider offering the electorate greater choice about who will be on the lists?

Mr. McLeish

I shall resist the temptation to deal with the comment about the Labour party, because it ill behoves a party that has no Members of Parliament in Scotland to make such a remark. I shall pick up the hon. Gentleman's serious point about open and closed systems when I deal with the appropriate amendments.

Mr. David Stewart

Reference was made to the Moonies, but in my view the Moonies were more successful in Scotland than the Tories at the election. It was argued that candidates on the list would be second-class citizens. What is my hon. Friend's view about candidates under the first-past-the-post system also standing under the list system?

Mr. McLeish

Mr. Lord, you will be pleased to know that I shall again resist the temptation to respond to the first part of my hon. Friend's intervention. The rules and regulations will allow candidates to be on the firstpast-the-post part of the ballot and to stand under the list system, as long as it is in the same region.

I do not think that the second-class citizen problem would arise. Why should we visit on a new Parliament problems that are being created purely because it is a new idea with a new set of politics? It must be a mature Parliament, and we must trust what we are doing. It is not right to say that because it is a new Parliament, it will be second-class, or that any of the electors will be second-class. That does not make sense, and there is no evidence to suggest that that has happened elsewhere.

Mr. Davidson

Does my hon. Friend accept that problems will arise if two Members represent the same geographical area? On a planning dispute, the first-past-the-post Member may legitimately say that he has an interest, and a regional Member may say the same. If they choose to take different positions, there will be chaos. Protocols and arrangements will have to be drawn up to handle such a problem, otherwise there will be chaos.

Mr. McLeish

I do not accept my hon. Friend's central premise. Just because there are two Members, it does not mean that the system will collapse and there will be a crisis. It is realpolitik: people must talk to one another. There is no evidence to suggest that having both a first-past-the-post group of Members of the Scottish Parliament and a group elected under the regional Member system will create a dilemma and cause conflict. We could throw that up as a possibility, but there is no evidence for it, and we should have faith in our aspirations for the Parliament.

Mr. Ancram

Let me ask a genuine question. If a constituent has a housing problem, who should that constituent write to? Should constituents write to the directly elected MSP, or to the regional MSP? Will there be a difference in work load? I think that hon. Members are worried about that.

Mr. McLeish

We are discussing a great constitutional reform. When I became a local councillor 20-odd years ago, we dealt with questions such as that raised by the right hon. Gentleman: "Who will write to me? How shall I deal with the matter? Should I take it straight to the director of education, or should I send the correspondence to the local councillor first?" Some common sense must be applied. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman's question is relevant. Indeed, it demotes the Parliament to suggest that that will be an aggravating factor in the equation.

9.15 pm
Mr. Swinney

Might not the committee that the Minister is convening consider what the protocols of the Scottish Parliament should be in regard to important issues that obsess the Conservatives—and some Labour Members as well?

Mr. McLeish

The hon. Gentleman stretches my charity, but I am happy to consider anything in relation to the consultative steering group. I do not think that there is a problem, but I can write to the hon. Gentleman—as they say—and, perhaps, clarify those points.

If a party runs mediocre candidates in either category, the electorate will quickly pick up on the fact. A good deal of discussion is currently taking place in Scotland about the quality of candidates, and that will ensure that the Labour party, at least, will scrutinise every candidate on every list. In fact, all the other parties will be doing the same. But why should we worry about quality? We have a unique opportunity to get it right—to attract a wide cross-section of people into the first-past-the-post system and on to the list—and I think that quality will be there anyway.

Once elected, a regional Member will have the same rights and responsibilities as any other Member. How well Members do their job will be important to the success of their party at the next election. The regional Member system also allows independent candidates to stand, and, potentially, to be returned if they can achieve sufficient support across the region. That is a useful advance on the proposals in the White Paper.

Let me return to my North-East Scotland example. If we base the calculation on the results of 1 May, we find that 20,520 votes—the votes of 5.7 per cent. of the electorate—would be needed for the election of an independent candidate. It is a low threshold, but it is a useful illustration. We make no apologies for a system that will not only involve the traditional political parties, but allow the involvement of those who do not want to be recognised as members of political parties.

I understand the reasons behind amendments Nos. 105, 106 and 107. Those who tabled them believe that we should give voters more freedom of choice by allowing them to identify their preferred candidate on a party list. The Government considered that possibility, but concluded that the drawbacks were significant in the circumstances that would apply to the elections. I understand that a similar view was reached in the Scottish Constitutional Commission, which developed the proposals subsequently adopted by the Scottish Constitutional Convention and now contained in the Bill.

Mr. Kirkwood

I do not think that the Minister can get away with merely saying that there are disadvantages. Will he share some of them with us?

Mr. McLeish

I shall do that shortly, because I think it important.

It must be borne in mind that the Scottish parliamentary elections will combine a constituency poll with a regional poll, the results of which will be applied on a corrective basis. Candidates may stand on a party list and in a constituency. If candidates are elected as constituency Members, their names will have to be disregarded in the allocation of regional seats to the party on whose list they stand.

The amendments would introduce more complication and, we think, confusion for voters, some of whom may feel that they are being asked to vote twice for the same candidate. I gave an illustration of that earlier. Let me say in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West that we suggested a way of achieving a better link between those who will be on the lists and appreciation of them by the electorate. We think that it would go some way towards meeting the concerns of hon. Members.

The amendments assume that voters will always prefer individual candidates. However, the question arises, "What if they do not?" In the interest of simplicity and comprehension, a closed-list system, which the Bill provides, is the best way forward at this time. Of course, voters will still have a direct say in electing their constituency Member. The amendments would complicate matters for the electorate and could lead to confusion and, although it is not a major consideration, they could lead to an increased risk of spoiled ballot papers. Hon. Members have mentioned that.

Mr. Kirkwood

I am anxious to bridge the gap, which I do not think is great. The Minister has diminished the risk that we all face, of the charge that this is a party political stitch-up. Of course, there might be difficulties and the Minister has adverted to some, which I shall carefully consider. Will he keep an open mind on the matter? The Bill has to go to the other place and will come back to us. Will he undertake to leave us just a chink of light on the issue of closed versus open lists?

Mr. McLeish

In Committee and elsewhere, I think carefully about these issues. As I said, the closed-list system is in the Bill, and that will continue. In a spirit of fairness and in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West, I undertake to look at the issue of it being said that there is a closed list because the parties devised it. However, we can go some way towards ensuring the involvement of people in regional areas.

I now come to amendment No. 129. The Government's position is that electors who wish to vote for a political party rather than an independent candidate in the election for regional Members should vote for the party and not for the individual candidates on the party lists. The lists and the order in which candidates will be returned will be published well beforehand, and the Bill makes it clear how seats should be allocated among the people on each list.

I was asked about informing the Scottish people about the new system. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that people understand what is happening so as to minimise confusion. The parties will also want to engage in such an exercise. On the basis of what I have said, the electorate will know who is more or less likely to be returned by their votes. The amendment would leave the allocation of seats entirely to the parties. However, it does not say how or when they should reach a decision on that matter, and that could mean that the electorate had absolutely no idea as to which candidates would be preferred. We do not want that to arise. We want a system in which the candidates are known. The amendment may suit the parties, but it is not at all fair to the electorate, and in the spirit of what I have said, I hope that it will not be pressed.

Amendment Nos. 120, 121, 123 to 126 and 128 would prevent independent candidates from contesting regional seats in the Scottish Parliament. The Government's policy is to allow as wide a range of people as possible to stand for election. We are conscious that many talented people have no direct party political affiliation, and the regional Member system offers them the ideal opportunity of standing and of being elected to the Scottish Parliament.

The provisions have been warmly welcomed, particularly in the highlands and islands and in the borders, where there is a long tradition of independents in local government. That might not be good news for the established political parties, but it is a sign of the new politics that we are trying to develop.

The Government think that it is wholly appropriate for the electorate to be given choices beyond those that are presented by the political parties, and the electoral system in the Bill does that. The Government believe in choice and opportunity, and the new Parliament will provide those. I invite the Committee to reject the amendments.

I shall now deal with amendment Nos. 233 and 241. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) suggested an alternative approach to the calculation of the number of regional Members in any region. He explained that the aim was to try to achieve greater parity in the ratio of electors to Members in any part of the country. I understand the logic of the amendments, but I cannot accept them. The Government recognise that the Bill will tend to favour rural areas to some degree. That is consistent with the Government's aim that the Parliament should be representative of Scotland as a whole and should not be dominated by any one geographical area. I invite my hon. Friend not to press his amendments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pollok, in speaking to amendment Nos. 237 and 238, raised the intriguing idea that only people who pay income tax in Scotland should be allowed to stand as regional Members. It will come as no surprise to the Committee to learn that the Government cannot accept those amendments. We want there to be no restrictions, and have tried instead to create an open franchise. The fewer restrictions on those who can stand, the better. The amendments are unnecessary, and I invite my hon. Friend not to press them.

Mr. Dalyell

Are we sure that it is not the Sean Connery enablement clause?

Mr. McLeish

We have continually made the point that we are not putting restrictions in place. The issue was raised in the context of tax, and we are not accepting those amendments. The Bill and the literature show that the Government are trying to have an open approach to the Parliament. That is the best way forward.

Mr. Ancram

Mr. Lord, I think that the Minister was trying to tell the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that the gentleman to whom he referred will have licence to stand.

Mr. McLeish

That was not bad.

Mr. Ancram

It was not bad for this time of night. I actually think that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) was stirring rather than shaking.

It was interesting watching the Minister trying to sell that voting system to the Conservative party, because the more he suggested that there was a benefit in it for Conservatives, the less enthusiastic about it his Back-Bench colleagues seemed to become. As a salesman, he was losing some of the sales that he had already managed to achieve, while not managing to persuade those whom he was trying to persuade to buy.

The Minister must have heard from Conservative Members—to whom I am very grateful for the way in which they entered the debate—that we feel very strongly on the issue, and that, merely because we might win seats in the short term, we are not for sale on it. We believe that we are trying to achieve the best possible voting system for the Scottish Parliament, and that first past the post will achieve that. We are quite prepared to take our risk—as does every other political party—on the hustings to secure election to the Scottish Parliament on a first-past-the-post basis. I am confident that, when the Scottish Parliament elections come, Conservatives will achieve good representation on that basis in the directly elected seats.

Mr. Dalyell

Does the Conservative party therefore fancy the idea of a Scottish Parliament of perhaps 142, which would enable first past the post to operate?

Mr. Ancram

I am not sure that increasing the size of the Parliament necessarily means that there will be a change in the proportions of those elected. I have not done the psephological study on it, although it is an interesting concept. In this debate, lists containing 56 Members have been mentioned. I am sure that, like me, the Minister is conscious that there will probably be far fewer than 56 Members in the long term because the Bill's provision for a boundary revision is likely to reduce the number of directly elected seats—although, regrettably, after the Parliament has been elected—and because, on the same basis, as the White Paper states, there will be a proportionate change in those elected to regional lists. The point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow therefore underlines and highlights one of the system's difficulties.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) talked about lists on walls. In June 1996, we had that precise problem in the Northern Ireland elections on the negotiations, and—because it was impossible to put the number of names on a ballot paper—we resolved it by having printed lists in the polling booths, thereby enabling those who were voting to see who was on the list. I freely give him that advice, as I think that that is the way round the issue.

Conservative Members and other hon. Members raised important points in the debate, which were regrettably not dealt with specifically by the Minister—but then, we are used to him not necessarily dealing with all the points that have been raised. He might like to take account of two points that I think are important.

The first is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) that the currently proposed system would allow a plethora of parties that did not stand in the direct elections to appear on the party lists, and that that could be used as a way of engineering if not manipulating the results. He gave the example, which I have heard gossiped about in Scotland, that some Labour Members might stand on a Co-operative party ticket on the regional list, because they know that no more seats would be available on the Labour list for direct elections.

Clause 4(8) is very unclear about how political parties will be registered. It states: 'registered political party' means a political party registered under any enactment providing for the registration of political parties". That does not inform us very much. I do not know whether there is an Act in place already to which the Minister is referring or whether there will be an Act. Could we please be told what legislation will provide for the registration, and particularly whether there is protection in it against the type of manipulation and abuse about which we have been talking?

Mr. Davidson

The example that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) cited of the Labour party and the Co-operative party is not necessarily a manipulation of the system. Under the existing first-past-the-post system, the two separate parties feel it best to operate together and run joint candidates. Those two parties, each of which has its own members, structure, general secretary and policies, might feel that, given what the hon. and learned Member for Orkney and Shetland said, it is best that they learn new tricks. A new system could mean a new system of running for election. It would be excellent if the Co-operative party ran separate candidates, and I would thank it for reflecting my idea.

9.30 pm
Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he has allowed me to flush out what I thought was a rumour but what now appears to bear more resemblance to reality. It strengthens my request to the Minister to inform the Committee—whether now or by putting a letter in the Library at a later date—about the form of legislation that will register political parties and the protection against abuses from wherever they occur. It would be intrinsically bad for the Scottish Parliament if it were felt that it had been elected by some sleight of hand through the regional list system. It is in all our interests that we have an answer to that question.

Another important question was raised by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). He asked who, after the Bill passed into law, could decide a future system of election if the current system turned out not to work. Would it be the House, through primary legislation, or the Scottish Parliament? It is important that we have an answer to that. Whatever else has been said in the debate, several very severe doubts have been raised about the system. The system may have to be changed, but at the moment we have no idea how. I shall give way to the Minister if he would like to intervene.

Mr. McLeish

I shall come back to the right hon. Gentleman on that after he has finished making his points.

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the Minister, because that is an important point.

We have had a full debate. My hon. Friends have covered comprehensively the reasons why we are against such a system of proportional representation. It shook me somewhat when the hon. Member for Pollok reminded us that we might be faced in the borders, where I still have certain interests, with Mummy Steel, Daddy Steel and Baby Steel. That nightmare does not necessarily bode well for the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Davidson

The only thing that is more frightening is the right hon. Gentleman's extended family running for election. If we returned to a different voting system, such as the one to which I referred earlier, in which there is one acre, one vote, his extended family would virtually be able to sweep the whole country.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) is in his place, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Pollok will want to discuss that proposition with him.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is there any truth in the rumour that the right hon. Gentleman might again contest his old constituency of East Lothian? He would be very welcome to try.

Mr. Ancram

I was rather hoping that the hon. Member for Pollok was going to tell us that he would be the Goldilocks in the scenario of Daddy, Mummy and Baby Steel. Perhaps that would give us some hope in the borders.

We have dealt with several important issues in relation to the PR system. I do not want to go over ground that has already been covered, but I shall make several points. We believe that the proposed PR system is neither fair nor effective. It will produce a system that will be decided largely by political patronage.

How the ranking on the party lists will be worked out is a matter for conjecture. I could not help thinking that, if some of the Labour Members who have spoken tonight were standing for such a list now, they might have received notes from the Whips telling them that they had just dropped from first to fifth. That ability to exercise influence on political grounds gives me great concern. We want a live Parliament. The proposed system is dangerous, because it could result in a large proportion of the Parliament consisting of party placemen—or party hacks, as one of my hon. Friends called them.

Several hon. Members have said that the whole point about proportional representation is that it produces moderate and balanced government. That is not my experience of PR. The Italians are moving away from PR to first past the post. The French tried PR, saw extremists being elected as a result and moved away from it again. In Ireland, with a Parliament elected completely by PR, in the middle of intense negotiations, the Government changed not because of a change in political opinion or a general election, but because two coalition partners fell out and a new coalition had to be formed. A different Government came in as a result of a falling out behind closed doors.

The Liberal Democrats say that PR secures balanced, moderate government because it brings in more people from the centre. It may have done in Germany, with the 5 per cent. threshold, but other countries with PR systems have had problems. In Israel, for example, the Parliament and the Government have been dominated for generations by minorities—normally extremist minorities.

Mr. Salmond

What process of accountability, democracy or consent from the people was employed when the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) took over from Lady Thatcher?

Mr. Ancram

I had not realised to whom I was giving way. The hon. Gentleman has not attended the debate from the beginning and has obviously not heard all the points. He should think carefully about what is being proposed.

Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)


Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman has not been here at all during this debate, so I shall not give way to him.

The Bill proposes a variety of PR that will give enormous power to the parties. It will not necessarily produce the balanced result that those who favour PR want to achieve. Our amendments are designed to remove it from the Bill. We believe that, for all its imperfections, first past the post produces firm, clear government. People can see what they voted for and what they will get.

Before I draw my remarks to a close, I shall give way to the Minister if he wants to reply to me. I shall give my views on what we shall do with our amendments after that.

Mr. McLeish

The right hon. Gentleman said that his party was not for sale. Nobody wants to buy it. Principles and practice often coincide. The possibility of 20 seats may bring about an early rehabilitation.

The right hon. Gentleman made three important points. First, we have no interest in manipulating lists. We want to provide a fair system of voting. We have outlined some of the potential advantages for the Conservatives and for the people of Scotland. Secondly, we shall prepare full proposals on political registration. As soon as they are ready, I shall contact the right hon. Gentleman so that everything is in the open. The proposals will then be put in the House of Commons Library.

Thirdly, questions were asked about any future changes to the system of voting. That is a reserved matter, but we are very relaxed on the basis that there will be discussions within the Scottish Parliament and at Westminster. I have no doubt that, as we move towards changes in Wales and London, possible changes in Northern Ireland and the creation of regional agencies, the constitutional machine will be on the move. There will be much discussion in Westminster and Scotland over the coming years on this important point.

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the Minister for the two pieces of information that he has provided, and I look forward to seeing the draft of any order that will enact the legislation that is passed. He has taken seriously my point, and the point made by the hon. Member for Pollok. I thank him for his solicitude about my party. I shall look at him as someone once looked at St. Luke and say, "Physician, heal thyself." These are serious amendments, and we appreciate that these are difficult matters on which there are mixed views. It is right that we should make clear our objections to this system and to PR in general.

Mr. Davidson

The right hon. Gentleman said that his party was not for sale, but there is an important point. We ought to be clear about what his party and others will exact as the price for entering a coalition. Is the Conservative party saying that it will go into the election for the Scottish Parliament stating that it will not go into coalition with another party under any circumstances? Does he agree that other parties ought to make the same commitment?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is living in wonderland if he believes that that is the way in which coalitions work. My experience is that there is a lot of deal-making, smoke-filled rooms and expediency so far as coalitions are concerned. I have had experience of that and if that is what the Government want to create, they are doing a disservice to Scotland for the future.

Having said that, and having had this debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Back to
Forward to